Suspended Fiji prosecutor Christopher Pryde seeks NZ government intervention

Fiji’s suspended director of public prosecutions (DPP) wants the New Zealand government to intervene and “address a grave injustice perpetrated against” him by the Fijian government.

Christopher Pryde, a New Zealand citizen, held the DPP’s position from 2011, until he was suspended in April 2023.

He remained on full benefits while an inquiry and a decision as to whether the President Ratu Wiliame Katonivere should convene a Tribunal was being made.

Pryde was suspended by Katonivere on advice from the Judicial Services Commission for alleged misconduct.

“You are suspended, and you are to take your overdue leave of 168 days which expires sometime in December 2023, and the same to take immediate effect,” Katonivere said in a letter at the time.

In a five-page letter to Foreign Minister Winston Peters on Thursday, seen by RNZ Pacific, Pryde said the actions against him “should serve as a warning to other New Zealanders who may be considering taking up positions in Fiji”.

“While this issue may appear to be an internal one between the government and me, the Fijian government’s action in unilaterally cutting off my salary at the four-year mark of my current seven-year contract has now meant that I am unable to effectively defend myself against totally unwarranted charges that have now been outstanding for 15 months, with no date set yet for a hearing, as the Fijian Constitution stipulates,” he wrote.

“It also has implications for New Zealand’s Pacific Reset if people sent from New Zealand are going to be treated in this manner in which false allegations are made and the goalposts for dealing with these allegations are continuously shifted.”

This is the first time Pryde has spoken out on his suspension, which had occurred under strange circumstances.

According to the Attorney-General at the time, Siromi Turaga, he had met with former AG Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and “spent about 30 to 45 minutes conversing alone” with him at a public event hosted by the Japanese Embassy in Suva.

Turaga said this was tantamount to misconduct.

The DPP, a constitutional office holder under Fiji’s 2013 Constitution, can only be removed if the Tribunal gives a finding of misbehaviour.

The Fiji government established a Tribunal on 5 March 2024, almost 12 months after his suspension, to investigate the charge. However, no hearing date has yet been set.

In the letter to Peters, Pryde writes that he was informed in April this year that Tribunal’s mandate had been amended to include an additional charge of investigating him for receiving superannuation payments that had not been approved by the Judicial Services Commission.

He said he had already been in correspondence with the Commission on this issue and had denied any wrong-doing.

“I had also pointed out that these and all other entitlements were audited twice a year by the government and the Auditor-General and no issue had ever been raised.”

Winston Peters

He said under the terms of his suspension, he was to continue receiving all contractual entitlements. However, although he was receiving his salary, his superannuation payments were unilaterally stopped and without any notice.

“On 9th July 2024, I wrote to the Judicial Services Commission enquiring when I should expect to receive my gratuity allowance which was due in April 2024. As this was a contractual entitlement, I was expecting to receive this as per the terms of my suspension and it was already overdue by three months, again without any notice.

“On the same day, I received a letter from the President informing me that my salary and all contractual benefits would be suspended forthwith.”

Pryde said as of Tuesday, 9 July his salary has been ceased.

“…in order to defend these charges with adequate legal counsel, I must rely on personal savings with no income and no indication as to when the Tribunal’s investigation will be completed and a final decision is made.

“It is clear that this latest action by the government in unilaterally ceasing my salary is designed to put undue pressure on me and to deny me the opportunity to defend the allegations against me.”

‘Rule of law being undermined’

He said the delay and the manner in which this matter has been dealt with by the Fiji government should be of concern to the New Zealand government.

“First, the suspension of a constitutionally appointed officer of state is extremely serious and as such demands that any investigation should be without delay. The failure to convene a Tribunal and have the matter heard without delay represents a breach of the rule of law.”

He said the unilateral cessation of the salary of a constitutionally appointed officer is a breach of Fijian employment law and a clear attempt at intimidation to pressure me to resign.

“To cease my salary at this late stage deprives me of the ability to adequately defend the charges.”

He added there are other New Zealand citizens who have taken up positions in the criminal justice system in Fiji who may potentially be adversely impacted if the Fijian government is permitted to ignore due process and the rule of law.

“The NZ government provides substantial aid to Fiji in support of the rule of law which is being undermined.

“For these reasons, I am requesting that the New Zealand government raise these concerns urgently with the Fijian government on my behalf as a New Zealand citizen.”

“I am aware that this issue may be seen as an internal one for the Fijian government and me to settle on our own, however the issues raised go beyond being merely a local issue and have regional implications in terms of the rule of law.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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