Fiji’s Bainimarama gets one year in jail

FILE PHOTO: Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama

Suspended Police Commissioner gets 2-year sentence

Former Fiji Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama has been sentenced to a year in prison after being found guilty of one count of attempt to pervert the course of justice.

And suspended Police Commissioner, Sitiveni Qiliho has been sentenced to two years imprisonment for the charge of abuse of office. The sentences were handed down in the Suva High Court today by Acting Chief Justice Salesi Temo.

The sentences will commence immediately, with Bainimarama and Qiliho escorted from the court in handcuffs to a waiting police vehicle.

The case relates to an investigation into alleged mismanagement of funds at the University of the South Pacific.

The High Court found Bainimarama guilty on one count of attempting to pervert the course of justice when in July 2020, he directed the police commissioner to stop an investigation into complaints made to police by the University of the South Pacific.

The Acting Chief Justice similarly found Qiliho guilty of abuse of office. The charge stated that in the same month, he directed members of the Force’s Criminal Investigations Department to stop investigating the USP complaint.

The case has been the subject of a substantive hearing, appeals and appearances over the past year.

On March 28, Suva Magistrate Seini Puamau ruled that Bainimarama be given an absolute discharge, and then imposed a $1500 fine without entering a record of conviction against Qiliho.

The State appealed against the sentence, and today Acting Chief Justice Temo found that during that sentencing, Magistrate Puamau had “completely ignored” the fact that the High Court had already found the respondents guilty, and that in doing so, she had allowed herself to be guided by “irrelevant matters”.

In sentencing Bainimarama and Qiliho today, the Acting Chief Justice considered the oaths that they had made in taking high office. He said by telling Qiliho to ‘stay away from the USP investigation’, Bainimarama had breached his oath of office and of allegiance, and the public’s trust in the position.

Acting Chief Justice Temo noted that the investigation related to alleged mismanagement of public funds at the university by people who appeared to be Fiji citizens.  He added that in telling Qiliho to ‘stay away from USP’, Bainimarama had in a sense, sabotaged the police investigation , noting that “to this day” the investigation still has not been completed.

Acting Chief Justice Temo added that in directing two officers to stop the investigation into USP, Qiliho had breached public trust, violated the constitutional independence of the office of Commissioner, and acted in a way that was prejudicial to the interests of USP.

Acting Chief Justice Temo reduced his initial sentences for the pair after considering mitigating circumstances; from three years down to one for Bainimarama, and four years reduced to two for Qiliho.

He finished by saying that the prisoners must be treated humanely in prison and Bainimarama’s medical team must be consulted on a medical care plan to ensure his treatment (for a heart condition and sleep apnoea continues.

Lawyers for Bainimarama and Qiliho have 30 days to appeal the sentencing.