Former Fiji leader Bainimarama to be sentenced next week

Reggie Smith
Former Fiji leader Bainimarama to be sentenced next week Former Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama [right] talks to supporters in Suva following a court hearing on May 2, 2024 that rejected his request for the acting chief justice to remove himself from the case.
Reggie Smith/BenarNews

A last ditch legal maneuver by Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama to avoid possible prison time for obstruction of justice was rejected by a court on Thursday and the former strongman leader will be sentenced next week along with the country’s suspended police commissioner.

Acting Chief Justice Salesi Temo refused a request from Bainimarama’s lawyers to recuse himself from the case and said sentencing would take place on May 9. Lawyer Devanesh Sharma had argued that Temo had shown bias against the ex-prime minister.

Bainimarama, who held sway over Fiji for 16 years following a 2006 military coup and forged close ties with China, faced trial last year for halting a police investigation into alleged financial mismanagement at the University of the South Pacific. 

Temo in March ruled that Bainimarama was guilty of perverting the course of justice and his police chief, Sitiveni Qiliho, guilty of abuse of office, overturning a lower court’s acquittals.

Fiji’s Crimes Act allows a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment for conspiring to defeat justice. Abuse of office can be punished with up to 17 years prison if it was done for personal gain. Under Fiji’s constitution, Bainimarama’s conviction would make him ineligible to run for public office for nearly a decade. 

Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, Laisani Tabuakuro, said Bainimarama’s recusal request was intended to delay sentencing and damage the reputation of the court.

“This is a baseless, useless application that has been made,” she told the Suva court.

Fiji’s suspended police commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho [center] is pictured at a Suva court on May 2, 2024. Qiliho and former Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama will be sentenced on May 9 for abuse of office and obstructing justice, respectively. [Reggie Smith/BenarNews]

Bainimarama’s years in power ended in December 2022 after his Fiji First Party dropped below 50% of the vote in national elections, allowing opposition parties to form a coalition government led by Sitiveni Rabuka. Both men are former coup leaders – Rabuka in the late 1980s.

A purge of Bainimarama appointees from important public positions followed the change in government along with the removal of restrictions on the media and a slew of investigations into alleged abuses of office.

However, Bainimarama still commands a significant following in Fiji – the second most populous Pacific island country with nearly 1 million people – while the initial enthusiasm for Rabuka’s coalition government has faded amid cost-of-living increases, slowing economic growth and scandals involving government ministers.

Supporters and former members of the military were at the court on Thursday to learn the outcome of Bainimarama’s latest legal battle and he stopped to chat with them following the hearing. 

After finding Bainimarama and Qiliho guilty in March, Temo ordered a lower court to sentence them but its lenient sentences – no record of conviction for Bainimarama and a small fine for Qiliho – were rejected by the acting chief justice following an appeal from the public prosecutor.


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