Ex-Fiji PM jailed for corruption
Fiji’s last democratically elected leader was sentenced to one year in prison yesterday after being convicted on corruption charges that his supporters say were politically motivated.
Laisenia Qarase was found guilty of abusing his office and failing to perform his duties. Court documents say the 71-year-old former prime minister failed to disclose a private investment interest in three companies that he was helping to manage in an official capacity about 20 years ago.
Qarase served six years as prime minister before being ousted by Commodore Frank Bainimarama in a 2006 coup. At the time of the offences, Qarase was financial adviser for the Fijian Affairs Board and the now-disbanded Great Council of Chiefs, as well as a company director.
More than 300 Qarase supporters showed up at his sentencing at the High Court in the capital, Suva, where security was tight. Many supporters maintain the charges were politically motivated – a way for Mr Bainimarama’s regime to consolidate power and prevent his rivals from running for office.
The prime minister has made clear his disdain for Qarase and his political policy of favouring native Fijians ahead of other ethnic groups.
Mr Bainimarama has promised to hold free elections in 2014, and Fiji is drafting a new constitution ahead which is expected to include provisions to prevent convicted criminals from running for office – meaning the convictions will likely end Qarase’s political career.
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