The four week Fijian Holdings trial of former Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase has kicked off with FICAC's Senior Counsel, Michael Blanchflower saying Qarase allowed himself to be influenced by private interests that would benefit his family and fellow villagers.
Qarase is charged with 6 counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.
It is 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 Advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.
The case relates to the allotment and issuance of the FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.
While opening the case for the prosecution in a packed High Court room today, Blanchflower told the court that Q-Ten Investments is a company owned by Qarase's wife and children, Mavana Investments is a company owned by some of Qarase's family members and villagers where Qarase is from, while Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited is a company where Qarase was appointed as an advisor.
Blanchflower said that Fijian Holdings Limited was set up in 1984 to assist indigenous Fijians in investments and business and the early Class A shareholders were NLTB, Fijian Affairs Board and Provincial Councils.
He said that $20 million was lent to FAB by the government in 1989 and FAB then lent the money to FHL for the creation of Class B shares.
Qarase was then appointed as a Director of FHL.
It is alleged that Qarase made a presentation to the Great Council of Chiefs that more Class A shares should be available to tikinas and companies owned by indigenous Fijians which was approved.
Blanchflower said that their case will prove that between November 1991 and June 1992, Qarase on behalf of Q-Ten Investments, Mavana Investments and Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited applied for the FHL Class A shares, never declared his interest in those companies and participated in the decision making process.
The Senior Counsel for FICAC said that the three companies own 20 percent of FHL and by far are some of the largest shareholders - Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited is the second largest shareholder while Mavana and Q-Ten Investments are the third largest shareholders in FHL.
Blanchflower said from 1991 onwards the three companies received tens of thousands of dollars in dividends as Class A shareholders get a higher level of dividend payout.
He said that the case will be proven through about ten witnesses, an agreed bundle of documents and agreed facts.
These are facts agreed by both the prosecution and defence.
Blanchflower said that this case is about established principles for public office holders and members of the public placing their trust on the person to carry out their duties for the benefit of the public at large.
He said FICAC's case will prove that Qarase did not adhere to these principles.
Meanwhile Qarase pleaded not guilty to all nine counts today.
Stay with us for coverage of Qarase's trial this afternoon.
You can also follow the coverage on fijivillage.com
Story by: Vijay Narayan