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Judge agrees with assessors in finding Qarase guilty in corruption case

Laisenia Qarase

Deposed Fiji PM Laisenia Qarase … found guilty on nine corruption-related charges yesterday. Photo: Scoop

LATEST: Justice Priyantha Fernando today agreed with the assessors and found former Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase guilty on all 9 corruption-related charges, reports FijiVillage. Qarase has been granted bail until being sentenced.

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Vijay Narayan, William Waqavakatoga and Ronal Deo in Suva

It’s judgement day for former Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase over corruption-related charges today.

High Court judge Justice Priyantha Fernando will deliver his judgment in the Fijian Holdings Limited trial this afternoon.

After deliberating on the charges and evidence for about two hours yesterday afternoon, the three assessors returned to court and found Qarase guilty of six counts abuse of office and three counts of the charge of discharging his duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

With 71-year-old Qarase sitting in the dock, the nine counts were read out by the court clerk one at a time to each of the assessors and they said guilty for all the charges.

Justice Fernando then asked the assessors’ opinions on the six counts of abuse of office on whether Qarase abused his office for gain. All the three assessors said yes for all the six counts.

Qarase shook hands with his legal counsel after the verdict and drove away in his waiting vehicle from the courthouse.

Under Fijian law, the assessors give their recommendation on the case but the judge is not bound to accept it. If the judge upholds the assessors’ verdict, Qarase – head of the indigenous Fijian SDL party – would be barred from contesting the 2014 elections.

The charges were brought after an investigation by the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC)

Abuse of office
The maximum sentence for abuse of office is three years imprisonment while the charge of discharging his duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest carries the maximum sentence of one year imprisonment.

It was alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and adviser to the Great Council of Chiefs.

While summing up the case, Justice Fernando told the assessors that if the act was done purposely for gain, then Qarase was guilty.

He told the assessors that they needed to find out whether Qarase was in public service and if he used his position that was not according to institutional procedures to give some advantage.

He highlighted that FICAC witness Ratu Timoci Vesikula, in his evidence, said Qarase was already the financial adviser of the Great Council of Chiefs when he became Fijian Affairs Minister in 1992.

He pointed out Vesikula had said that in the GCC files he could not find any declaration by Qarase that he had financial interests in any company.

Justice Fernando also said FICAC witness Sitiveni Weleilakeba had highlighted that there were no records of Qarase’s declaration of interest in Mavana Investments, Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited and Q-Ten Investments.

No declaration
Weleilakeba had said that if Qarase had made the declaration, he would have recorded it.

The judge highlighted that Weleilakeba had declared his interest in Stiks Investments which was recorded in the minutes.

The judge also focused on defence witnesses, mainly Joe Mar who gave evidence that he could not recall Qarase declaring his interest. However, he said that this did not mean that it did not happen.

Referring to when former FHL director, Joe Mar gave evidence, the judge highlighted that it was evident that no declaration of interest was recorded in the minutes.

Justice Fernando told the assessors that their duty wsas to find the facts on evidence and not to get carried away by emotions.

Source: FijiVillage