An official from Vanuatu's Health Ministry has spoken out against the controversial pharmaceuticals company, Phoenix Life Sciences, after news broke that its former CEO, Australian man Martin Tindall, has been charged with fraud in the United States.
Mr Tindall relocated to Vanuatu as CEO of Phoenix Life Sciences to help develop a medical marijuana industry in the country, but he was unexpectedly removed from the company in July, after he was arrested in New York.
He has been charged with 32 counts of securities fraud in the US state of Colorado, with Phoenix Life Sciences alleging Mr Tindall was involved in the unregistered sale of securities.
Other lawsuits against the company and Mr Tindall have also come to light — some filed as recently as January this year, but Phoenix Life Sciences' board claims they were unaware of these cases earlier.
Phoenix Life Sciences' current CEO Janelle Marsden, who replaced Mr Tindall in July after his arrest, has been investigating his conduct since her appointment.
Ms Marsden has said the charges will not affect current operations, and said Phoenix Life Sciences contacted the Vanuatu government as soon as it was aware of the charges against Mr Tindall.
And despite these recent revelations, she says the company is confident can operate openly and transparently with their partners.
Earlier this year, Phoenix Life Sciences signed an agreement with the Vanuatu government, seemingly giving the US-based company exclusive rights to offer its cannabis-based product to treat diabetes, cervical cancer and auto-immune disease.
But Prime Minister Charlot Salwai and other government MPs have denied that this agreement is binding.
The company has also said it wants to trial its cannabis-derived drugs clinically on diabetics in Vanuatu, and has already started screening patients and gathering data in Port Vila for that purpose.
This has raised concern among international diabetes specialists, local health professionals and traditional landowners in Vanuatu, who have all pointed to a lack of ethical oversight on the trials, and to the experimental nature of the drug putting patients at risk.
The Director of Curative Health from Vanuatu's Ministry of Health, Russell Tamata, has said he's "not surprised" by the recent charges of fraud levelled against Mr Tindall.
"This was all along our suspicions that whatever that they are trying to do in Vanuatu was fraud activities," Mr Tamata told Pacific Beat.
"They have this treatment for diabetic patients, that they're going to prevent all the amputations, and obviously, we find out it’s not true."
Lana Elliott, a public health expert from the Queensland University of Technology, has also raised concern over some of Phoenix Life Science's work.
"The Vanuatu government is trying its best to deal with a non-communicable crisis in the region, so may have inadvertently spread up processes that should have been in place around checks and balances of processes and who's involved and what kind of provision is given around health," she said.
Martin Tindall is awaiting trial and is expected to appear in court on the first of October.
- Pacific Beat