Fiji’s former attorney-general charged with abuse of office

Stephen Wright
Fiji’s former attorney-general charged with abuse of office Fiji First Party General Secretary Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum talks to reporters after the first sitting of the newly elected parliament in Fiji's capital city Suva on Dec. 24, 2022.
Leon Lord/AFP

Updated at 12:42 a.m. ET on 2023-05-02

A senior minister in Fiji’s former government has been charged with abuse of office, in a new setback for allies of Frank Bainimarama, the strongman leader who dominated the Pacific island country’s politics for nearly two decades.

Former Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum was charged on Monday, police said in a statement that also asserted its investigations are independent and not influenced by any organization or individual outside of the police’s Criminal Investigation Department. 

The case against Sayed-Khaiyum comes after Bainimarama, prime minister from 2006 to 2022, was charged with abuse of office in March for allegedly stopping a police investigation into complaints of financial mismanagement at the University of the South Pacific.

“The Fiji Police Force would like to again call for patience with regards to the conduct of investigations of these high-profile cases,” Sakeo Raikaci, an assistant commissioner of police, said in the statement.  

“The complex nature of the reports determines the course of investigations which have no predetermined timeline,” he said. “We reiterate that investigators need time to gather evidence and statements, and rushing the investigation process could hinder the prosecution outcome.”

Bainimarama’s 16 years in power ended in December after his Fiji First Party dropped below 50% of the vote in national elections, allowing opposition parties to form a coalition government led by a former prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka

Both men are former coup leaders – Bainimarama in 2006, when he headed Fiji’s military, and Rabuka in the late 1980s as a Fijian ethno-nationalist seeking to assert indigenous political power.

Bainimarama remains leader of Fiji First following the election defeat and his subsequent suspension from parliament for criticizing the country’s president. 

Videos posted on Facebook by Fiji First showed Sayed-Khaiyum arriving at a courthouse in Suva on Tuesday afternoon where he greeted supporters. A man in the crowd yelled “Justice for Fiji, your turn now Khaiyum,” an apparent reference to his aggressive legal tactics against political opponents when attorney-general.

State broadcaster FBC reported that Sayed-Khaiyum was released on bail. It said the prosecution alleges that as acting prime minister in mid-2022, he exceeded his authority by authorizing an agreement for the Fijian government to pay the taxes of the supervisor of elections.

Fiji’s former prime minister Frank Bainimarama (center) is pictured surrounded by media at a polling station in Suva on Dec. 14, 2022. [Stephen Wright/BenarNews]

The charge against Sayed-Khaiyum is separate from Bainimarama’s alleged wrongdoing. Police said it follows a report made in February against Sayed-Khaiyum by the acting head of the Fijian Elections Office. 

Fiji’s Crimes Act allows a sentence of up to 17 years in prison for abuse of office if it was done for personal gain.

Fiji, a linchpin nation in a region increasingly contested by major powers, has a strong trade and economic relationship with China while maintaining close security ties with the United States and countries such as Australia and New Zealand. Fiji’s ties with China particularly blossomed after New Zealand, Australia and other countries sought to punish Bainimarama and his government for the 2006 coup.

Rabuka’s government has sought to highlight its commitment to its traditional security relationships. While still affirming the “One China” principle, it has signaled a warmer relationship with Taiwan and also reportedly ended a memorandum of understanding that facilitated cooperation between Fijian and Chinese police. 

Sayed-Khaiyum, who resigned from his seat in parliament following the opposition’s election victory, remains a key figure in the Fiji First Party. 

A purge of Bainimarama appointees from important public positions followed the first change in government in Fiji since Bainimarama’s coup, along with investigations into alleged abuses of office and the removal of restrictions on the media imposed by the former Fiji First government.

Sitiveni Qiliho, who was suspended as police commissioner in February, was charged for his alleged role in stopping the police’s University of South Pacific investigation in 2019.

Elections Supervisor Mohammed Saneem was removed from his post earlier this year. He was interviewed by police in late March, according to the Fijian Broadcasting Corp.

This story has been updated to add details of Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum’s appearance in court.


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