Former Fiji prime minister Frank Bainimarama sentenced to year in jail

Former military ruler accused of stopping police investigation into corruption case

Maroosha Muzaffar
Thursday 09 May 2024 08:53 BST
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Frank Bainimarama, former prime minister of Fiji, has been sentenced to a year in prison for seeking to pervert the course of justice in the University of the South Pacific corruption case.

The Pacific island nation’s acting chief justice, Salesi Temo, overturned Bainimarama’s acquittal by magistrate Seini Puamau last month and imposed the sentence on Wednesday.

Supporters of the former prime minister’s Fiji First party were gathered outside the Suva High Court and they joined in singing a Fijian hymn after the sentencing was announced.

Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, a senior party member and former attorney general of Fiji, said Bainimarama, 69, would continue as the party’s leader. “Come 2026, we will deal with it,” he said, referring to the next national election.

Bainimarama was accused of trying to obstruct justice when he was prime minister.

He allegedly instructed the then police commissioner, Sitiveni Qiliho, not to investigate allegations of financial mismanagement at the University of the South Pacific. The university is collectively owned by 12 Pacific states and is recognised as one of the top institutions in the region.

Qiliho was sentenced to two years in prison at the same hearing for abuse of office.

Both men have denied the charges.

Bainimarama initially came to power after leading a military coup nearly two decades years ago before winning democratic elections in 2014 and 2018.

He lost power in December 2022 to a coalition of parties led by the incumbent prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka.

“We believe that everybody will follow the law, and for those who don’t agree there’s a court process to follow. That’s what democracy is all about,” Savenaca Narube, leader of the Unity Fiji party, told The Guardian.

“The court case and sentencing show the accountability framework is working, that people who break the law, doesn’t matter who they are, they are brought to account.”

When he was released on bail last year, Bainimarama said: “I served as prime minister with integrity and with the interests of all Fijians at heart.”

“The former prime minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, and the suspended police commissioner, Sitiveni Qiliho, are alleged to have arbitrarily and in abuse of the authority of their respective offices, terminated an active police investigation,” chief prosecutor Christopher Pryde said at the time.

“The police have also been requested to undertake further investigations into other matters arising from this case and more charges may be laid against other suspects in due course.”

Additional reporting with agencies

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