Former Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama and suspended Police Commissioner, Sitiveni Qiliho are free men as they have been found not guilty for attempting to stop investigations into USP in 2020.
Bainimarama was charged with a count of attempt to pervert the course of justice while Qiliho was charged with a count of abuse of office.
While delivering her judgement, Suva Magistrate Seini Puamau took judicial notice of Bainimarama’s roles and responsibilities, command posts and acts prior to 2006.
She says much as she disapproves of Bainimarama’s actions in spearheading the 2006 coup and while she does and continues to have strong feeling for Bainimarama’s disregard to the rule of law in deciding to abrogate the 1997 Constitution in direct contravention of the Court of Appeal on 9th April 2009, she directed herself that Bainimarama is not here for those acts.
She says her thoughts and feelings for those facts are irrelevant and she must dispassionately view those acts as a matter of history; bad history that she prays is never repeated but history none the less.
Magistrate Puamau says she is not satisfied beyond doubt that Bainimarama told Qiliho to stay away from the USP investigation.
She says Bainimarama would have been aware that investigations into USP protest could result in the Fiji Police Force ultimately invoking the jurisdiction of the court by the laying of charges but the State specifically charged Bainimarama with doing an act, namely by saying to stay away from the USP investigation that was reported and not investigations into a possible breach of COVID protocols arising from the past and possible protest.
She says there is no evidence that Bainimarama was aware of investigations into USP’s financial matters prior to his conversation with Qiliho in June 2020.
The Magistrate says during her no case to answer ruling, she found that there was relevant and admissible evidence capable of implicating Bainimarama of the tendency to deflect the police from invoking the jurisdiction of the court.
She says she no longer holds that view having had the benefit of reading through the defence’s evidence where what was initially presented as potentially dismissive, in its abridged form coloured through former Acting Police Commissioner Rusiate Tudravu’s testimony of what a terrible environment he worked under in 2020 and the 16 years before, that is now revealed through the defence case presentation and in accordance of due process to be nothing more than a misunderstanding that could have been easily cleared up when some light was shown on it.
Magistrate Puamau says Tudravu clearly came to court with an axe to grind following his dismissal from the Fiji Police Force due to an unrelated event.
She says during his cross examination he admitted on oath in open court that he did what he did because he was afraid of losing his acting position as Police Commissioner yet nothing in the extended transcript of the National Council Meeting, his evidence and his own testimony pointed to a single moment where Bainimarama or anyone else directed him to come out of the meeting and direct the stopping of the USP investigations as he did.
She says Qiliho had testified that Bainimarama had made the comment to him and as the recipient of the comment, he understood Bainimarama to mean to leave this investigation alone, entrust it with the officers under him and to focus his energy as Commissioner of Police on winning the war against COVID-19. Magistrate Puamau further says Qiliho testified that he has never directed of filing away in a phone conversation with former Director CID Serupepeli Neiko and Investigating Officer Reshmi Dass as he understands fully well the importance of capturing the following decisions in nature in writing.
She says Qiliho testified that according to him he directed Dass to stop what she was doing and provide him a brief.
The Magistrate says Neiko and Dass were simply putting down in writing what they individually understood Qiliho to have said, they made these notations not simultaneous to the conversation but after having discussed it with each other and in Dass’ case with another person – CID Manager Fraud Unit Rajesh Kumar.
She says with each successive conversation they moved further away from their pure recollection of the brief conversation they had with Qiliho.
She says they wrote down what they understood and this view was unfortunately coloured and potentially tainted by the subsequent conversations they had with each other and another, it was not a verbatim recording.
Magistrate Puamau says if in doubt ask for clarification, assumptions as they say can make donkeys out of people.
She adds the investigation closed a year and a half after Qiliho’s conversation Neiko and Reshmi Dass.
It was alleged that Bainimarama sometime in July 2020 as the Prime Minister directed the Police Commissioner to stop the investigation into a police complaint, in the abuse of the authority of his office, which was an arbitrary act prejudicial to the rights of the University of the South Pacific which is the complainant.
It was alleged that Qiliho on the 15th of July, 2020 as the Police Commissioner directed the Director of the Criminal Investigations Department, Serupepeli Neiko and Inspector Reshmi Dass to stop investigations into the police complaint by the USP, in the abuse of the authority of his office, which was arbitrary act of prejudicial to the rights to USP.
Bainimarama and Qiliho were represented by R Patel Lawyers Devanesh Sharma and Gul Fatima while Acting Director of Public Prosecutions, the late Ratu David Toganivalu was representing the State with co-counsel Nimisha Shankar however, Assistant DPP Lee Burney stood as senior counsel today.
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