Former Fiji PM Frank Bainimarama jailed

Former Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has been sentenced to one year in prison.

Bainimarama, alongside suspended Fiji Police commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho appeared in the High Court in Suva for their sentencing hearing for a case involving their roles in blocking a police investigation at the University of the South Pacific in 2021.

Qiliho has been sentenced to two years jail.

Bainimarama, the 69-year-old former military commander and 2006 coup leader, had been found guilty of perverting the course of justice.

Qiliho had been found guilty of abuse of office by the High Court Acting Chief Justice Salesi Temo, who upheld the State’s appeal.

Bainimarama and Qiliho walked out of the High Court in Suva in handcuffs, and were escorted straight into a police vehicle.

“The former PM and the suspended COMPOL were found not guilty and acquitted accordingly by Resident Magistrate Seini Puamau at the Suva Magistrates Court on 12 October 2023,” the Office of the Direcotr of Public Prosecutions said.

“The State had filed an appeal against their acquittal where the Acting Chief Justice, Salesi Temo then overturned the Magistrate’s decision and found the two guilty as charged. The matter was then sent back to the Magistrates’ Court for sentencing.

“In sentencing the duo, Magistrate Puamau announced that both their convictions would not be registered. The former PM was granted an absolute discharge while the suspended COMPOL received a conditional discharge with a fine of $1500 on 28 March 2024 by the Suva Magistrates Court following which the State had filed an appeal and challenged the discharge

for a custodial sentence.

“The Acting Chief Justice quashed the Magistrate Court’s sentence and pronounced the custodial sentences respectively.”

‘Beauty of the law’

Responding to questions from the media, Bainimarama and Qiliho’s counsel Devanesh Sharma said: “That’s the court decision right now and we [will] exercise our right to appeal.”

“My clients are very tough. Remember they have been far worse situation than this and at the end of the days let’s face it you have a 12 months prison sentence under the laws of this country; you serve two-thirds [and] you apply for release.”

Sharma said his clients were not jailed for a long period of time.

“They will come out. They will come back into public life as well or come back to their families. I don’t see any issue with that at all.

“Like I said I reserve our comments I am not [going to] pre-judge anything on this matter. And the whole idea is; it’s all part of the process that they [State] appeal they can win or lose; we appeal we can win or lose and that’s the beauty of the law.”

Meanwhile, the FijiFirst party is expected to host a news conference on Thursday afternoon.

Qiliho walks out of the Suva High Court and escorted by police officers to the be taken to jail. 9 May 2024

Earlier on Thursday morning, local media reported an increased police presence outside the Suva court complex.

“There is more pronounced police presence than usual with vehicles being checked upon entry. A section has been cordoned off in front of the High Court facing Holiday Inn,” broadcaster reported.

State broadcaster FBC reported that police only allowed close relatives and Bainimarama and Qiliho’s associates, along with the media, to sit in the courtroom.

MPs from the main opposition FijiFirst party in Parliament, including opposition leader Inia Seruiratu, Faiyaz Koya were present in court.

Brief timeline:

  • The duo were sentenced by the Magistrates Court on 28 March.
  • Magistrate Seini Puamau gave Bainimarama an absolute discharge – the lowest level sentence an offender can get and no conviction was registered.
  • Qiliho was fined FJ$1,500 and without a conviction as well.
  • The 69-year-old former military commander and 2006 coup leader was found guilty of perverting the course of justice in a case related to the University of the South Pacific; and suspended police chief Qiliho was found guilty of abuse of office by the High Court Acting Chief Justice Salesi Temo.
  • Magistrate Puamau’s judgement had left many in the legal circles and commentators in the country perplexed.
  • The State – through the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution – had appealed the sentencing straightaway to the High Court.
  • They were back in court 7 days later – during the court appearance at the High Court, the Acting Chief Justice Salesi Temo, gave time until the 24 April for the respondents to file their submissions and for the State to reply by the 29th.
  • The sentencing hearing was last Thursday, 2 May.
  • Acting Chief Justice Salesi Temo sentences Bainimarama to one year in jail and Qiliho for two years.

Bainimarama’s attempt to pervert the course of justice charge had a maximum tariff of five years while Qiliho’s charge of abuse of office carried a maximum tariff of 10 years.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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