The organisation says it was the victim of “local collusion” that saw Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC) withdraw its offer of a new premises in Arorangi and hand the site to a newly formed local group, Te Are Manu (TAM), which is now operating there.
It says the alleged “conspiracy” was orchestrated by a former employee who, with others involved in TAM, actively worked to undermine the charity, which was left homeless after being told to vacate its base in Nikao.
The US-based charity, which operated on Rarotonga for more than 20 years and treated 45,000 animals, has also alleged that equipment belonging to the organisation was taken from its clinic without the permission of the board.
The claims have been denied by TAM, which insisted that it had been open and honest and always wanted to work alongside Esther Honey for the good of animals in the Cook Islands.
In a statement the Esther Honey Foundation (EHF) said it “never intended” to close its clinic on Rarotonga but had been left with no choice.
“EHF stands committed to providing veterinary care to the Cook Islands, but now, since the local collusion to undermine EHF’s long-standing clinic and with the assets that were stolen from EHF, a clinic is uncertain.”
However, the charity says it is planning to continue work in the Cook Islands and hopes to run “vet treks” on Rarotonga and beyond, with volunteers travelling to villages to provide care for animals.
Documents seen by CI News show that when EHF inquired about moving to Arorangi in February last year it was told by CIIC: “That is the site to which the EHF clinic is to be relocated.”
However, another email from CIIC, written in April last year revealed that the CIIC board’s “ultimate aim” was “to have a locally owned, managed and operated animal clinic” on Rarotonga.
It added that the foundation of TAM would “pave the way for us to take things to their logical conclusion including the possibility of a locally owned/managed animal clinic becoming a reality sooner rather than later”.
In late May after the official formation of TAM, CIIC wrote to EHF saying the site at the Ministry of Agriculture was no longer available to them.
It cited support for a locally-owned operation and a lack of local involvement of Cook Islanders in the work of the charity, a claim that EHF strongly denies.
EHF also said it was excluded from talks over the land and that CIIC was fed false information by former volunteers that it failed to check.
Other correspondence, also seen by CI News, suggests that several disillusioned former Esther Honey volunteers, who are no longer involved in animal welfare on Rarotonga, did agitate to have the foundation closed down on Rarotonga.
The messages also appear to support claims that an item was taken from the clinic without permission.
“It was reported lost by a volunteer, who later told a friend that she had removed it from the clinic herself.”
The correspondence also implies that supporters of TAM were asked not to publicise the founding of the new clinic until it had secured the site in Arorangi.
TAM has refuted the claims made against it. A spokeswoman said: “TAM was formed to ensure that the Cook Islands has animal health care well into the future; health care that reflects the needs of the community, and that did not have to rely on a foreign based charity to provide that service at their discretion.
“After forming, TAM enquired with government if they would consider renting us the building behind Agriculture. Government agreed. There was nothing underhand or secret about this.”
The new animal welfare organisation conceded that an X-ray machine was being used at its clinic, but said it had been taken there on the suggestion of an EHF staff member and is currently being used to help treat animals.
The spokeswoman added that TAM had asked EHF representatives to meet with them “numerous times… but they flatly refused preferring instead to go to the police and accuse us of theft”.
She added: “It was our intention to work alongside EHF. We reached out to them and the SPCA to work together… In fact for the past three months before EHF closed down we were all working together locally sharing resources and personnel. There was more than enough animal welfare work to keep us all busy.”
TAM also accused EHF of trying to “twist” the facts and accused them of attempting to “publicly shame government” into letting them stay at their premises in Nikao.
CIIC is expected to comment next week.