Sun, 19 May 2024
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Former Fiji PM Frank Bainimarama jailed for a year

Update : 10 May 2024, 15:31

Fiji's long-serving former prime minister Frank Bainimarama has been sentenced to a year in prison for obstructing a police investigation into corruption.

Bainimarama, 70, is one of the most high-profile politicians in the Pacific Islands, having led Fiji for more than15 years until he was voted out in 2022.

On the international stage he was also a leading representative lobbying for climate change action for vulnerable Pacific countries.

He was taken away in handcuffs after the High Court's ruling on Thursday.

Last month he was convicted of perverting the course of justice during a police investigation into university fraud.

Prosecutors alleged he had told his friend, the former Fijian Police Commissioner, to drop a 2020 investigation into abuses of finances at the University of South Pacific which included alleged bonuses, promotions and pay rises to staff.

Bainimarama pleaded not guilty to the charges but a court in April found he and the police chief Sitiveni Qiliho had used their power to sideline the investigation at the university, one of the leading tertiary educations in the region.

He was initially spared a jail term last month at his sentencing when a lower court magistrate also ruled for his conviction to not be recorded.

But that verdict was challenged by Fiji's top prosecutors who launched an appeal.

On Thursday, the country's high court quashed the lower court's ruling and handed down prison sentences for both men.

Qiliho, who has been suspended from his role, was sentenced to two years in prison.

Outside the court, supporters of Bainimarama who had gathered to hear the verdict sung hymns while governing politicians praised the verdict.

"The court case and sentencing shows... that people who break the law, doesn't matter who they are, they are brought to account," Unity Fiji party leader Savenaca Narube said.

Political watchers have noted the timing of the criminal cases brought against Bainimarama.

He is facing several allegations of political abuse after losing the tight vote in December 2022 to current PM Sitiveni Rabuka, who led a coalition of parties.

Last year, Bainimarama as an opposition leader was also suspended from parliament for three years after giving a speech where he criticised the new government.

His political party FijiFirst is standing by him. “Bainimarama will continue to be the leader of the FijiFirst party. Come 2026, we will deal with it,” party senior Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said according to local media reports.

Bainimarama, a former military commander, first seized power in Fiji in a 2006 bloodless coup. He retained office through winning democratic elections in 2014 and 2018. Source: BBC 

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