It’s judgement day for former Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase at 2:30pm today.
High Court Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando will deliver his judgement in the Fijian Holdings Limited trial at 2.30pm.
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 court-house.
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 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.
While summing up the case, Justice Fernando told the assessors that if the act is done purposely for gain, then Qarase is guilty.
He told the assessors that they need to find out whether Qarase was in public service and if he used his position that is not according to institutional procedures to give some advantage.
He highlighted that FICAC witness, Ratu Timoci Vesikula in his evidence said that Qarase was already the financial advisor of the Great Council of Chiefs when he became Fijian Affairs Minister in 1992.
He pointed out that 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 that FICAC witness, Sitiveni Weleilakeba had highlighted that there are no records of Qarase’s declaration of interest in Mavana Investments, Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited and Q-Ten Investments.
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 defense witnesses mainly, Joe Mar who gave evidence that he cannot recall Qarase declaring his interest however he said that this does not mean that it did not happen.
Referring to when former FHL director, Joe Mar gave evidence, the Judge highlighted that it is evident that no declaration of interest was recorded in the minutes.
Justice Fernando told the assessors that their duty is to find the facts on evidence and not to get carried away by emotions.
Stay with us for coverage on Qarase’s trial as Justice Fernando delivers his judgement at 2.30pm today on whether he concurs with the assessors and finds Qarase guilty for the nine counts or decides otherwise.
Story by: Vijay Narayan, William Waqavakatoga & Ronal Deo