Fiji′s former PM sentenced on corruption charges | News | DW | 03.08.2012
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Fiji's former PM sentenced on corruption charges

Former prime minister of Fiji, Laisenia Qarase, has been sentenced to one year in jail for corruption. Qarase was ousted during a 2006 coup after being democratically elected.

Former Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase attends a kava (traditional mild narcotic drink) ceremony at his home in Suva Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2006. Military commander Frank Bainimarama said he had invoked special powers under the constitution to assume some powers of the president, and was using them to dismiss Prime Minister Qarase from office and appoint an interim replacement. (ddp images/AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Fidschi Ehemaliger ministerpräsident Laisenia Qarase

Fiji's former prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, was sentenced Friday to one year in jail on corruption charges. Qarase was convicted on nine charges of abusing his office and failing to perform his duties.

Court documents say the 71-year-old Qarase failed to disclose a private investment interest in three companies that he was helping manage in an official capacity.

The charges are related to his time as a director of a government investment company called Fijian Holdings from 1992 to 1995, when prosecutors said he put the interests of his family and home village before the public.

His supporters say the charges were politically motivated. Commodore Frank Bainimarama appointed Qarase caretaker prime minister in 2000 following a coup by ethnic Fijian nationalists. Qarase went on to win democratic elections in 2001 and 2006.

The military leader Bainimarama later accused him of corruption and causing racial strife by favouring indigenous Fijians over the ethnic Indian minority and appointed himself prime minister.

Judge Priyantha Fernando rejected defence pleas for a non-custodial sentence because of Qarase's age and poor health. "We wish to make it very clear that people in high office who abuse their power will be required to serve an immediate prison sentence," the Fijilive online news service quoted Judge Fernando as saying.

He said he would not give a suspended sentence "because the consequences for such a person is severe. Your actions are not only illegal but against moral values."

Security was tight around the court and the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation quoted a police spokesman saying officer numbers had been increased to "deal with any issue that will arise."

Bainimarama has made his disdain for Qarase clear.

New constitution

Bainimarama has promised to hold free elections in 2014. Fiji is drafting a new constitution ahead of the elections, which will likely include provisions to prevent convicted criminals running for office.

Many international organisations, including the European Union, British Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum imposed sanctions on Fiji in protest at Bainimarama's 2006 coup.

The New Zealand and Australian governments announced Monday that they would relax sanctions to encourage Bainimarama to proceed with the elections he has promised.

hc/rg (AP, AFP, dpa)