Phil Gerlach: the collapse of Fiji Studio City project, and its Australian architect

The collapse of the Yaqara Studio City project, has roots in Australian television history, through the involvement of Phil Gerlach, founding Managing Director of Beyond International, in the project.
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The collapse of the Yaqara Studio City project, has roots in Australian television history, through the involvement of Phil Gerlach, founding Managing Director of Beyond International, in the project. We start – just start mind you – to trace the money, something that the US State Department might also be doing.

Last week the Yaqara Group was de-listed from the South Pacific Stock Exchange in Suva, Fiji. Various reports reveal that it has taken between $F22 million and $F50 million with it, and a well placed source told ScreenHub that the US State Department is likely to launch an investigation through its money laundering division.

The State Department is the US equivalent of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, and ScreenHub’s source understands that it will undertake the investigation through the Fijian government.

The idea for a combined studio, residential development, yacht club and marina – and the Fijian government tax deals that back them up – came from a consultancy carried out by Phil Gerlach, an accountant and founding chairman of Beyond International, and at one time the business partner of current Beyond International Managing Director, Mikael Borglund.

Gerlach was the Managing Director of Beyond International from 1984-1991, when there was an acrimonious split between Borglund, current chairman Ian Ingram and Gerlach. Gerlach was essentially fired, and went on to sue Beyond – a case that was struck out by the court.

He then founded another company, Total Film and Television, before moving to Fiji with former Film Finance Corporation Public Relations Manager, Mandy Kennington, in the late nineties.

In 1998, he founded Yaqara Group, which was predicated on a series of deals with the Fijian government, which would grant tax exemption for the “Yaqara Studio City Tax Free Zone Development” to “audio-visual production” companies operating within a 2,200 hectare area. That area was jungle, and it is possibly here that the some of the problems started.

The land was held under Fiji’s Native Land Act – a 99 year lease – rather than as freehold, and the plan seems to have been to fund the project by selling sections of the land to developers.

Gerlach was, according to the website of his other entity, The Tahila Group of Companies, “the architect behind the plan and legislation for Yaqara Studio City and the establishment of the Fiji Audio Visual Commission (FAVC) and was founding Executive Chairman for Yaqara Group Limited.” He was Executive Chairman, of Yaqara Group Limited until recently.

Gerlach and Kennington operate the three companies in the group – Tahila Management (construction consultancy), Tahila Pasifika (film and television) and Tahila Avenue (marketing and communications).

Other (recently resigned) board members of Yaqara, were Maurice Goldberg and Mark Falzon (still listed as Executive Chairman) of Australian financial planning consultancy Ark Total Wealth, both of whom have yet to return ScreenHub’s phone calls.

Native landowners in Fiji are calling for the government to investigate.

Alex Prior
About the Author
Alex Prior is a digital marketing consultant, the founder of ScreenHub, and a former editor-in-chief of ArtsHub.