Trial of former Fiji PM Bainimarama opens
The high-profile trial of Fiji’s former prime minister Frank Bainimarama opened on Monday, with the ex-military strongman linked to murky accusations of political interference at the country’s largest university.
The one-time coup leader has been accused of using his political clout to shut down a sensitive police probe while leading the South Pacific country and has been charged with one count of perverting the course of justice.
Fiji’s former police commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho, a longtime ally of Bainimarama, has also been charged in the blockbuster trial that could see the once-powerful pair sent to prison.
The charges relate to a police investigation into staff at Fiji’s University of the South Pacific in July 2020, when Bainimarama was prime minister and Qiliho the country’s top officer.
A high-ranking official from the university appeared as the prosecution’s first witness on the opening day of the trial.
The witness described how staff had initially tried to blow the whistle after stumbling across an allegedly suspicious web of bonus payments, promotions, and pay rises within the university.
But once those claims landed with police, it is alleged that Bainimarama and Qiliho used their influence to sideline the investigation. Both men have stressed their innocence.
Bainimarama faces up to five years in prison if found guilty.
Qiliho, who has been charged with the more severe offence of abuse of office, faces a maximum of 10 years.
Bainimarama was accompanied by his wife and family members as he arrived at Suva magistrates court during heavy rain.
The 69-year-old former naval commodore seized power in a bloodless coup in 2006, leading the Pacific archipelago until he was voted out in December last year.
Fiji’s former attorney-general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, a staunch ally of Bainimarama, also faces an abuse of office charge in a separate case.
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