The Fiji Times

Duo deny charges


FORMER prime minister Voreqe Bainimaram­a and suspended police commission­er Sitiveni Qiliho have denied the charges against them when they took the stand in the Suva Magistrate’s court yesterday.

They denied a count each of attempting to pervert the course of justice and abuse of office in the case of alleged financial mismanagem­ent at the University of the South Pacific by senior executives.

Mr Bainimaram­a said he never told Mr Qiliho at any time to stop any investigat­ion during his term as prime minister.

“I had suggested to let police handle the investigat­ion,” he said.

“And look at the bigger picture.” Mr Bainmarama told court that he attended a briefing held at the Ministry of Health headquarte­rs in June 2020 where Mr Qiliho, the Health Minister, permanent secretary and health experts were present.

He said after the meeting he was informed of an incident at the University of the South Pacific where a protest took place and students were involved.

Mr Bainimaram­a said the protest by the university had breached COVID-19 protocols.

He told the court he had suggested to Mr

Qiliho to stay away from the investigat­ion and to focus on the bigger picture which was to control COVID-19, and let police handle the issue at USP.

Defence lawyer Devanesh Sharma had asked Mr Bainimaram­a whether he was aware of the case of financial mismanagem­ent at USP.

He said he was not aware of the situation at that time, only the protest by USP students.

Mr Bainimaram­a said during a National Security Council meeting at the PM’s office on September 17, 2020, former acting commission­er of police Rusiate Tudravu had asked him about the USP saga.

He said he had suggested to Mr Qiliho to stay away from the investigat­ion referring to the USP protest in June 2020.

Mr Bainimaram­a said it was embarrassi­ng for Mr Tudravu to lie in court.

He said there was a misunderst­anding on Mr Tudravu’s part and not his.

“It’s not about the protest, but breaching the COVID-19 protocol from the students.”

When asked by Mr Sharma if he had known later on about a BDO report from USP, Mr Bainimaram­a said he had never been briefed on a report by Professor Pal Ahluwalia.

When asked by Mr Sharma whether he knew that the government grant was stopped, Mr Bainimaram­a said he learnt of this later and not at that time.

Meanwhile, suspended police commission­er Sitiveni Qiliho while taking the stand claimed there was a conspiracy by the Coalition Government against him and Mr Bainimaram­a.

“When government was formed the Prime Minister said he could not work with me,” he said.

“Second, the Home Affairs Minister and it was reported in the media that he had approached me to resign, but I refused to do so.

“I knew they were looking for something to remove me from office hence the report to the Constituti­onal Offices Commission (COC) for my removal.”

Mr Qiliho told the court he was not directly involved in the investigat­ions at USP.

He said if there was a part he played it was through resources with manpower.

Mr Qiliho said during his transition from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to the Fiji Police Force in November 2015 he had never stopped or given any directive to stop an investigat­ion.

“It was never my intention to stop an investigat­ion,” he said.

“The only thing I said to those senior officers handling the investigat­ion was stop what you doing and give me a brief.”

Mr Qiliho said the only investigat­ion he knew at USP was the breach of COVID-19 protocol.

“There was no other investigat­ions.” Mr Qiliho vehemently denined claims made against him by former director CID Serupepeli Neiko and senior police officer Reshmi Dass in court.

He said he was never briefed or updated on investigat­ions in USP even during his return from studies in the United Kingdom in August 2021.

“I never received any minutes from that investigat­ion. I only came to know of the investigat­ions with this court proceeding­s and came to know that the investigat­ion was filed away in 2022. When I was taken in at CID for questionin­g, they told me I had stopped the investigat­ions at USP.”

Mr Qiliho said he did not take any directives from anyone.

“I’m independen­t as clearly stipulated in the Constituti­on.

“I would take advice from the SolicitorG­eneral or the department of public prosecutio­ns.”

Magistrate Seini Puamau called for a final submission to be made on October 4 by defence lawyer Devanesh Sharma and prosecutor David Toganivalu.

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