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Fiji Time: 14:08, Monday 21st Apr 2014
Untitled Document
Laisenia Qarase FHL Trial
 

12 months prison sentence for Qarase - August 03

Former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has been sentenced to one year imprisonment and he has already been transported to prison in the last hour by the police.

In a packed court room, presiding Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando delivered the sentence in the Fijian Holdings Limited trial just before midday today.

With Qarase in the dock, Justice Fernando said that the facts of the case have been established that Qarase as advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board, advisor of the Great Council of Chiefs and director of FHL applied for Class A FHL shares and then facilitated the issuance and allotment of the shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Q-Ten Investments Limited and Mavana Investments Limited.

Justice Fernando told Qarase that he failed to disclose his interest in the three companies to FHL, FAB and GCC.

The companies highlighted in the charges are Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited in which Qarase was the company’s financial adviser (they had 400,000 Class A FHL shares), Mavana Investments Limited where Qarase and his wife Leba had shares (Mavana owned 200,000 FHL shares) and Q-Ten Investments which is a Qarase family owned company (Q-Ten had 200,000 FHL shares).

For the six counts of abuse of office, the maximum sentence is three years imprisonment.

Justice Fernando highlighted cases of Ben Naiveli, former permanent secretary for Agriculture Peniasi Kunatuba, former FNPF CEO Olota Rokovunisei and former Post Fiji chairman Mahendra Patel and Peni Mau where prison sentences were handed down.

Justice Fernando said that Qarase held very high office in the public sector as he was a financial advisor in the government and the public vested their trust in him.

He said Qarase had a duty to safeguard the interests of the Fijian people but he applied for shares for companies in which he had a private interest.

Justice Fernando said Qarase has breached the trust of the people.

The judge said he considered all the things said about Qarase in mitigation, that he is 71 years old, has five children and 15 grandchildren, his wife has health issues, he is a first offender, the offence was committed 20 years ago, his diabetic condition is worsening and other health conditions.

Justice Fernando started the sentence at 18 months imprisonment for the six counts of abuse of office.

He then reduced it to 12 months imprisonment.

Justice Fernando then handed a six month prison sentence for the three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

He ruled that that sentences be served concurrently and gave Qarase a 12 months prison sentence.

He said he considered whether to hand down a suspended sentence.

However, Justice Fernando said one of the issues he had to consider was the gravity of the offence.

Qarase has been given 30 days to appeal the prison sentence.

His lawyer Tupou Draunidalo confirmed that she will appeal the sentence on Monday.

Following the sentencing, Qarase hugged his lawyers and his wife Leba.

He was then escorted by police officers to the back end of the court house, got into a police vehicle and taken to prison.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Qarase to be sentenced today - Aug 03

High Court Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando will sentence former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase today.

Qarase’s lawyer Tupou Draunidalo has requested for a non-custodial sentence.

However, FICAC counsel Elizabeth Yang said the prosecution wants a custodial sentence due to the magnitude of the offences and the amount of money involved.

Qarase’s counsel Tupou Draunidalo asked for the court’s understanding and compassion while sentencing 71-year-old Qarase.

Qarase will be sentenced at 11.45 this morning.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Qarase to be sentenced at 11:45am Friday - Aug 01

Former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase will be sentenced by High Court Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando at 11.45am Friday after being convicted of six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

While making the sentencing submissions to the judge today, Qarase’s lawyer Tupou Draunidalo requested for a non-custodial sentence however FICAC counsel Elizabth Yang said the prosecution wants a custodial sentence due to the magnitude of the offences and the amount of money involved.

Draunidalo asked for the court’s understanding and compassion while sentencing 71-year-old Qarase.

She said Qarase was Interim Prime Minister of Fiji in 2000 and 2001, and was elected Prime Minister in 2001 and 2006.

She said Qarase is married with five children and 15 grandchildren and most of his children have gone overseas.

Draunidalo said Qarase is not receiving the Prime Minister’s pension and his wife even suffered a stroke.

She said Qarase also looks after his three grandchildren who have suffered considerable anguish from when Qarase was taken in for questioning at night with TV cameras also in sight.

Draunidalo said Qarase has personal health issues but he does not want to overstate them.

Two medical reports were then presented to the presiding judge.

The reports point out that Qarase is a diabetic, has coronary artery disease, has an abnormal liver, suffers from hypertension and chronic arthritis.

Draunidalo said in his condition, Qarase needs to be appropriately monitored.

She said Qarase is a first offender and the offences are also out of character and a severe fall from grace.

Draunidalo said the circumstances here came from investments after applying for shares in the normal manner and taking risks.

She said there was no favour.

She pointed out that conviction will no doubt restrict him from contesting elections but she asked the court that Qarase not be treated differently and he should not be made an example.

Draunidalo said a non-custodial sentence must be considered for Qarase and that any sentence be fully suspended and community work be an option.

FICAC counsel Elizabeth Yang is asking for a custodial sentence and pointed out the sentencing of former Post Fiji chairman Mahendra Patel where it was stated that sentencing would depend on the nature of the offence, seniority of the public servant, the motive, the nature of harm and the nature of gain.

Yang said a severe fall from grace should not affect or weigh in favour of a suspended sentence.

She again pointed out that Mahednra Patel was 71, had diabetes, served on a number of boards and charity organizations but was handed a 12 months custodial sentence.

Yang said Fijian Holdings Limited was not an ordinary company as it was established to assist ordinary indigenous Fijians progress in commerce.

She said Qarase’s actions resulted in gains to his family and villagers of Mavana and Cicia.

She said Qarase has shown no remorse and this should also be taken into account.

She said there was a huge demand for the FHL shares at the time and the two letters of those who missed out were examples.

Yang said the defense is understating the offences by saying that only two would-be shareholders were shut out.

She also said political connotations are not relevant for the court to take into consideration as political issues should not be taken into account.

The companies highlighted in the charges are Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited as Qarase was the company’s financial adviser (they had 400,000 Class A FHL shares), Mavana Investments Limited where Qarase and his wife Leba had shares (Mavana owned 200,000 FHL shares) and Q-Ten Investments which is a Qarase family owned company (Q-Ten had 200,000 FHL shares).

Earlier today:

Three character witnesses and an affidavit were presented in the High Court by Qarase’s lawyer before Justice Priyantha Fernando sentences Qarase.

First up was former Vice President Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi who said that Qarase was always polite, respectful and professional when he met the president and him fortnightly to relay to them about cabinet decisions and matters of national interest.

Ratu Joni said Qarase remained polite and professional even when they had differing views on the Reconciliation and Qoliqoli Bills.

He said during that period there was a lot of hostile exchanges between the government and the military and it made it more difficult for the then government as the then president was sympathetic towards the military’s concerns.

Ratu Joni said Qarase allowed discussions on the two bills which were often hostile and the bills died a natural death.

He also said that Qarase was the Prime Minister of Fiji for six years and has been a public figure from independence in 1970 as he became the Secretary of Public Service.

Ratu Joni said the conviction is a matter of great humiliation to Qarase.

The next character witness was former president of the Methodist Church Reverend Josateki Koroi who said Qarase is an honest and humble man who loves his children and grandchildren.

He said Qarase is a Christian and in all his character displays his Christian faith.

He said Qarase spent his life serving others starting from the people in his village.

Koroi knows Qarase from birth as they come from the same village.

Former Opposition Leader Mick Beddoes was the next character witness.

He said Qarase was a man of integrity and honesty.

Beddoes said though he frequently opposed policies brought up by Qarase’s government, he never heard or was told anything that would say that he was not a man of honesty and integrity.

Beddoes said in court that Qarase served all communities and did not favour one community.

He said Qarase would never do anything for self enrichment.

He then told the court that Qarase is a peaceful man and Fiji needs him going forward.

He said Qarase will play a crucial role in this and he revealed that even this morning before Qarase came to court, he attended a meeting with the Constitutional Commissioners.

Beddoes then said that he still sees Qarase as the leading Prime Minister.

An affidavit was also presented by Ro Teimumu Kepa as she could not come to court because she has gone to Australia.

Qarase will be sentenced at 11.45am Friday.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Madraiwiwi first character witness - Aug 01

Former Vice President and Roko Tui Bau Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi is the first character witness in the mitigation for former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase today after he was convicted of six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

The other character witnesses are former Methodist Church president Reverend Josateki Koroi and United Peoples Party leader Mick Beddoes.

Qarase’s lawyer Tupou Draunidalo is also expected to present her submission on the sentencing.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Mitigation time for Qarase today - Aug 01

It is mitigation time for former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase today after he was convicted of six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest yesterday.

Qarase’s lawyer Tupou Draunidalo is expected to call four to five character witnesses today and she is also expected to present her submission on the sentencing.

Yesterday afternoon, presiding Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando concurred with the three assessors that Qarase is guilty of all the nine counts.

He said he is satisfied that the prosecution proved the case beyond reasonable doubt.

Justice Fernando said he also agrees with the assessors that for the six counts of abuse of office, Qarase abused his office for gain.

Qarase had a blank stare sitting in the dock as Justice Fernando handed down his judgement in a packed court room.

Qarase is on bail and he has to report to the Samabula Police Station between 4pm to 6pm daily until the sentencing.

The maximum sentence for abuse of office is three years imprisonment while the charge of discharging his duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest carries the maximum sentence of one year imprisonment.

According to the charges, Qarase applied and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The companies highlighted in the charges are Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited as Qarase was the company’s financial adviser, Mavana Investments Limited where Qarase and his wife Leba had shares and Q-Ten Investments which is a Qarase family owned company.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Convicted - July 31

Former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has today been convicted of six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

Presiding Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando concurred with the three assessors that Qarase is guilty of all the nine counts.

He said he is satisfied that the prosecution proved the case beyond reasonable doubt.

Justice Fernando said he also agrees with the assessors that for the six counts of abuse of office, Qarase abused his office for gain.

Qarase had a blank stare, sitting in the dock as Justice Fernando handed down his judgement in a packed court room.

His lawyer Tupou Draunidalo then applied for bail pending sentencing.

She said it is Qarase’s right to be given bail pending sentencing and he never breached bail conditions.

She also assured the judge that Qarase will report to the Police Station on a daily basis until he is sentenced and highlighted that his passport remains with the court.

After writing his ruling for a few minutes, Justice Fernando said bail is granted at the discretion of the court when the accused is convicted.

He then said that bail is granted to Qarase and he has to report to the Samabula Police Station between 4pm to 6pm daily until the sentencing.

The maximum sentence for abuse of office is three years imprisonment while the charge of discharging his duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest carries the maximum sentence of one year imprisonment.

According to the charges, Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The companies highlighted in the charges are Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited as Qarase was the company’s financial adviser, Mavana Investments Limited where Qarase and his wife Leba had shares and Q-Ten Investments which is a Qarase family owned company.

Mitigation and submissions on sentencing will commence at 9.30am tomorrow.

Qarase’s lawyer is expected to call four to five character witnesses.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Judgement day for Qarase - July 31

It is judgement day for former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase at 2:30pm today.

High Court Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando will deliver his judgement in the Fijian Holdings Limited trial at 2.30pm.

After deliberating on the charges and evidence for about two hours yesterday afternoon, the three assessors returned to court and found Qarase guilty of six counts of abuse of office and three counts of the charge of discharging his duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

With 71-year-old Qarase sitting in the dock, the nine counts were read out by the court clerk one at a time to each of the assessors and they said guilty for all the charges.

Justice Fernando then asked the assessors’ opinions on the six counts of abuse of office on whether Qarase abused his office for gain.

All the three assessors said yes for all the six counts.

Qarase shook hands with his legal counsel after the verdict and drove away in his waiting vehicle from the court house.

The maximum sentence for abuse of office is three years imprisonment while the charge of discharging his duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest carries the maximum sentence of one year imprisonment.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

While summing up the case, Justice Fernando told the assessors that if the act is done purposely for gain, then Qarase is guilty.

He told the assessors that they need to find out whether Qarase was in public service and if he used his position that is not according to institutional procedures to give some advantage.

He highlighted that FICAC witness Ratu Timoci Vesikula in his evidence said that Qarase was already the financial advisor of the Great Council of Chiefs when he became Fijian Affairs Minister in 1992.

He pointed out that Vesikula had said that in the GCC files, he could not find any declaration by Qarase that he had financial interests in any company.

Justice Fernando also said that FICAC witness Sitiveni Weleilakeba had highlighted that there are no records of Qarase’s declaration of interest in Mavana Investments, Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited and Q-Ten Investments.

Weleilakeba had said that if Qarase had made the declaration, he would have recorded it.

The judge highlighted that Weleilakeba had declared his interest in Stiks Investments which was recorded in the minutes.

The judge also focused on defense witnesses mainly Joe Mar, who gave evidence that he cannot recall Qarase declaring his interest however he said that this does not mean that it did not happen.

Referring to when former FHL director Joe Mar gave evidence, the judge highlighted that it is evident that no declaration of interest was recorded in the minutes.

Justice Fernando told the assessors that their duty is to find the facts on evidence and not to get carried away by emotions.

Story by: Vijay Narayan, William Waqavakatoga & Ronal Deo

Assessors find Qarase guilty - July 30

Guilty for the nine counts.

That is the verdict of the three assessors in former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s Fijian Holdings Limited trial.

After deliberating on the charges and evidence for about two hours, the assessors returned to court and found Qarase guilty of six counts of abuse of office and three counts of the charge of discharging his duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

High Court Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando will deliver his judgement at 2.30pm tomorrow.

Qarase shook hands with his legal counsel after the verdict and drove away in his waiting vehicle from the court house.

Story by: Vijay Narayan, William Waqavakatoga & Ronal Deo

Judge awaits assessors’ opinion - July 30

High Court Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando is now waiting for the three assessors to return with their opinion on the nine charges faced by former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase in the Fijian Holdings Limited trial.

Justice Fernando has just summed up the case and the assessors have retired behind closed doors to deliberate on their opinion.

Court will resume when the assessors are ready.

While summing up, Justice Fernando directed the assessors that for the first six counts faced by Qarase, they have to come back with an opinion of guilty or not guilty.

He said if they come back with the guilty opinion then he will ask the assessors’ opinion if Qarase abused his office for gain.

He said they will have to say yes or no.

The first six counts deal with the charge of abuse of office and relate to the application, allotment and issuance of Class A FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.

For the remaining three counts, the presiding judge said the assessors have to assess whether the prosecution has proven beyond reasonable doubt that the accused discharged his duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

He said the assessors must use common sense in deciding on the facts.

Justice Fernando said the assessors must consider evidence in separate accounts when dealing with the charges.

The maximum sentence for abuse of office is three years imprisonment.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Qarase’s verdict today - July 30

The three assessors in Laisenia Qarase’s Fijian Holdings Limited trial are expected to deliver their verdict later today after the summing up by presiding Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando at 11am this morning.

After Justice Fernando’s summing up in the next 3 hours, the assessors will retire behind closed doors and will only return when they have decided on the verdict.

Last week while closing the defense case, Qarase’s lawyer Tupou Draunidalo said in court that FICAC is building a huge case and making something out of nothing.

Draunidalo said FICAC is trying to apply public sector rules in the private sector as FHL was a private company at the time.

Meanwhile, FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower told the assessors Qarase was not an ordinary person sitting on the FHL board as he was a public servant appointed by the Minister of Fijian Affairs.

He said this case is not about Cicia Plantation Co-op or Mavana Investments’ gains but it is about other provincial councils who did not gain as Qaarase was not representing them.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The case relates to the allotment and issuance of the FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

3 assessors in Qarase FHL case to deliberate verdict on Monday - July 26

The three assessors in Laisenia Qarase’s Fijian Holdings Limited trial are expected to deliberate on their verdict on Monday after the summing up by presiding Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando at 11am Monday.

While closing the defence’s case, Qarase’s lawyer Tupou Draunidalo said in court that FICAC is building a huge case and making something out of nothing.

Draunidalo said FICAC is trying to apply public sector rules in the private sector as FHL was a private company at the time.

She said according to FICAC’s charges, it states that Qarase was a director of FHL, advisor of FAB and advisor of the Great Council Chiefs.

She said Qarase was not holding public office when he was FHL director as he was appointed under FHL’s Articles of Association.

She stressed Qarase was only an advisor of FAB and was never an employee of FAB and Qarase was never an advisor of the GCC as there is no such position.

She said Qarase applied for the Class A FHL shares, signed the share application forms and did not conceal the information.

Draunidalo said this information was also known to the board.

Draunidalo said there was no law stopping Qarase from applying for the shares.

She also said Qarase did not abuse his authority as an advisor of FAB as he was only an advisor.

Draunidalo said Qarase was not responsible to bring 400,000 indigenous Fijians into business.

She said as their evidence has suggested that the board at the time was frustrated and was struggling to sell Class A shares.

Draunidalo said it was wrong for FICAC to say that Qarase deprived others when applying for the shares for Cicia Plantation Co-op Society, Mavana Investments and Q-Ten Investments.

She said FICAC’s witness Sitiveni Weleilakeba’s evidence is unreliable as he did not record all the discussions in the minutes and cannot say after 20 years what exactly happened in 1991 and 1992.

She also said Weleilakeba was charged with Qarase but charges were later dropped against him so he would have a much better attitude towards FICAC.

Draunidalo then said under company laws, failure to declare interest carries a maximum fine of $1,000.

However, the charges laid by FICAC would mean that Qarase faces 3 years in jail and she said this is what FICAC wants.

She also said the annual dividends for Qarase’s wife Leba from her shares in Mavana Investments is $800 while Q-Ten Investments dividends last year was $4,800.

Draunidalo said these are not millions of dollars and that it is a modest return from investments.

She said Qarase did not steal these shares and there is no abuse of office or corruption.

While closing the case, FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower told the assessors Qarase was not an ordinary person sitting on the FHL board as he was a public servant appointed by the Minister of Fijian Affairs.

He said this case is not about Cicia Plantation Co-op or Mavana Investments’ gains but it is about other provincial councils who did not gain as Qaarase was not representing them.

Blanchflower said he does not believe that Qarase’s private interest in these companies was seriously challenged in the case.

He referred to some defence witnesses who said that it was a bad investment and nobody wanted to buy FHL shares.

He questioned why then did Qarase tell the Great Council of Chiefs that FHL has not made a loss.

Blanchflower said Qarase was a trustee of Cicia Plantation and it was proven through bank documents.

He said Qarase did an arbitrary act when he applied for shares on behalf of these companies and did something that was not permitted.

Blanchflower said Qarase should not have voted and those share applications should not have been there.

He also said there is no evidence of any declaration.

Blanchflower said Cicia Plantation was the second largest shareholder of FHL and the fact remains that there were not enough shares for others.

FICAC’s senior counsel then said that Qarase saw the opportunity and took advantage of it, favouring his friends and family which was unlawful.

He also said that the defence’s case and witnesses were helpful to the prosecution than to the defence.

He said almost all their evidence was helpful to the prosecution, and defence witness Joe Mar was most important.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & Ronal Deo

Defense and prosecution sum up - July 25

As former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s Fijian Holdings Limited trial comes to an end today before the three assessors and the judge make their final decision, the defense counsel today told the assessors that the prosecution has not fully proved that Qarase committed an offence.

While closing the defence case, Tupou Draunidalo said in court that FICAC is building a huge case and making something out of nothing.

Draunidalo said FICAC is trying to apply public sector rules in the private sector as FHL was a private company at the time.

Draunidalo said just like some of the other directors of FHL at the time, Qarase and his family company had shares and he did not hide anything.

Qarase’s lawyer said FICAC has failed to prove that Qarase was holding public office at the time.

She said according to FICAC’s charges, it states that Qarase was a director of FHL, advisor of FAB and advisor of the Great Council Chiefs.

She said Qarase was not holding public office when he was FHL director as he was appointed under FHL’s Articles of Association.

She stressed Qarase was only an advisor of FAB and was never an employee of FAB and Qarase was never an advisor of the GCC as there is no such position.

According to Draunidalo, the second element that FICAC has failed to prove is that Qarase carried out an arbitrary act.

She said Qarase applied for the Class A FHL shares, signed the share application form and did not conceal the information.

Draunidalo said this information was also known to the board.

Draunidalo said there was no law stopping Qarase from applying for the shares.

She also said Qarase did not abuse his authority as an advisor of FAB as he was only an advisor.

She questioned how Qarase could abuse his authority if he did not have that authority.

Draunidalo said Qarase was not responsible to bring 400,000 indigenous Fijians into business.

She said as their evidence has suggested that the board at the time was frustrated and was struggling to sell Class A shares.

Draunidalo said it is wrong for FICAC to say that Qarase deprived others when applying for the shares for Cicia Plantation Co-op Society, Mavana Investments and Q-Ten Investments.

She said FICAC has only produced two letters that people wanted to invest in FHL but it was too late.

She said FICAC has proved nothing and their witness Sitiveni Weleilakeba has only waved a few letters around.

Draunidalo said Weleilakeba’s evidence is unreliable as he did not record all the discussions in the minutes and cannot say after 20 years what exactly happened in 1991 and 1992.

She said these charges are dangerous and FICAC should never have brought them.

She also said Weleilakeba was charged with Qarase but charges were later dropped against him so he would have a much better attitude towards FICAC.

Draunidalo then said that Qarase is not charged for not declaring his interest.

She said Qarase did not hide anything as he signed the share application forms for the three companies.

She said under company laws, failure to declare interest carries a maximum fine of $1,000.

However, the charges laid by FICAC would mean that Qarase faces 3 years in jail and she said this is what FICAC wants.

She also said Qarase did not get any gain as the shares were fully paid, there was no discount and people had to raise 20 percent equity to get loans from FDB for the shares.

She said this was not a gain from abuse of office but a gain from investing.

She also said the annual dividends for Qarase’s wife Leba from her shares in Mavana Investments is $800 while Q-Ten Investments dividends last year was $4,800.

Draunidalo said these are not millions of dollars and that it is a modest return from investments.

She said Qarase did not steal these shares and there is no abuse of office or corruption.

FICAC has just summed up its case.

FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower told the assessors Qarase was not an ordinary person sitting on the FHL board as he was a public servant appointed by the Minister of Fijian Affairs.

Blanchflower said as a public servant, Qarase should not have done what he did.

He said this case is not about Cicia Plantation Co-op or Mavana Investments’ gains but it is about other provincial councils who did not gain as Qarase was not representing them.

Blanchflower said he does not believe that Qarase’s private interest in these companies were seriously challenged in the case.

He referred to some defense witnesses who said that it was a bad investment and nobody wanted to buy FHL shares.

He questioned why then did Qarase tell the Great Council of Chiefs that FHL has not made a loss.

Blanchflower said Qarase was a trustee of Cicia Plantation and it was proven through bank documents.

He said evidence said Qarase was employed in the public service all the time.

He said Qarase did an arbitrary act when he applied for shares on behalf of these companies and did something that was not permitted.

Blanchflower said Qarase should not have voted and those share applications should not have been there.

He also said there is no evidence of any declaration.

Blanchflower said Cicia Plantation was the second largest shareholder of FHL and the fact remains that there were not enough shares for others.

FICAC’s senior counsel then said that Qarase saw the opportunity and took advantage of it, favoring his friends and family which was unlawful.

He also said that the defense’s case and witnesses were helpful to the prosecution than to the defense.

He said almost all their evidence was helpful to the prosecution, and defence witness Joe Mar was most important.

The summing up by the judge will take place at 11am Monday after which the assessors will retire behind closed doors to deliberate on their verdict.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & Ronal Deo

Qarase’s defence to make closing submission today - July 25

The defence counsel for former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase in the Fijian Holdings Limited trial will make their closing submission in the High Court today as they have finished off their case.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

Story by: Ronal Deo

Joe Mar gives evidence - July 24

The defense counsel for former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase in the Fijian Holdings Limited trial will make their closing submission in the High Court tomorrow as they have finished off their case.

After more than three hours of questioning of the last witness Joe Mar via skype from England today, defense lawyer Tupou Draunidalo said they have decided not to call Qarase’s son, Laisenia Qarase Junior, as a witness and they will wrap up their case tomorrow.

Upon questioning by Draunidalo, Mar said that he cannot recall Qarase verbally declaring his interest in FHL board meetings but he repeatedly said this does not mean that it did not happen.

Mar, who was a board director of FHL during the time of the alleged offences, also said that the FHL board minutes at the time only had board resolutions and all the discussions were not minuted.

He said it would be wrong to say that all the discussions were recorded in the minutes.

Mar confirmed to Draunidalo that his family company Nabuabua Holdings Limited also purchased 100,000 Class A FHL shares.

He said they raised $20,000 and took a loan of $80,000 from the Fiji Development Bank.

Mar said he verbally declared his interest in the board meeting but confirmed after seeing the minutes today that it was not recorded.

He said the late former FHL chairman Lyle Cupit was a no nonsense type of person, a strong and bulldozing leader.

Mar said he had a few clashes with Cupit in the meetings because he was not allowing too much participation.

But he said in fairness to Cupit, he tried to get consensus before a vote was taken.

He said Cupit was also the main driver of the proposal to open up the purchase of Class A shares to indigenous Fijian owned companies and individuals as there was a lack of interest to purchase shares by the provincial and tikina councils.

Mar said FHL was not being run on a ‘vakavanua’ system.

He also revealed that he had asked the FHL board if the directors can purchase shares to also show people that the board had confidence in the company.

He said the chairman and CEO said the directors could purchase shares.

Mar said he cannot recall Qarase declaring his interest when the applications for shares from Cicia Plantation Co-op Society, Mavana Investments and Q-Ten Investments were discussed however he said that does not mean that Qarase did not do that.

He went on to say that there were board papers submitted which contained the names of the shareholders and directors of the companies applying for shares.

Mar said Qarase’s involvement in Mavana Investments would not surprise him as Qarase is from Mavana village.

Upon questioning by Draunidalo, Mar said he decided to give evidence in the case because he has a good professional relationship with Qarase and he believes that he has got very high integrity.

FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower then asked Mar to look at FHL’s Articles of Association which states that it shall be the duty of a director to declare the nature of interest with any company and it shall be the duty of a secretary to record in the minutes any such declaration.

Mar confirmed that this should be followed.

Mar also agreed that the minutes of the board meetings were circulated before the next meeting and directors had the opportunity to correct any omission of a declaration.

Blanchflower then highlighted minutes of a FHL board meeting in 1991 where FHL CEO Sitiveni Weleilakeba declared his interest in Stiks Investments Limited while applying for Class A shares however in the same meeting, the minutes do not show that Joe Mar declared his interest for his family company Nabuabua Holdings.

Blanchflower asked Mar why it did not concern him then that his declaration should also be recorded.

Mar said honestly, he cannot say why he did not raise the issue.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

Story by: Vijay Narayan and William Wakavakatoga

Qarase’s lawyer expected to close case by tomorrow - July 24

The defence counsel for former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase is expected to close its case in Qarase’s Fijian Holdings Limited trial by tomorrow.

Defence lawyer Tupou Draunidalo has so far presented five witnesses while former FHL board director Joe Mar is expected to give evidence from England via skype today.

Laisenia Qarase’s son, Laisenia Qarase Junior, who is now residing in the US is also expected to give evidence via skype.

Yesterday FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower presented documents in the High Court which revealed that Q-Ten Investments had 48,000 shares in Mavana Investments, making it the second largest shareholder in Mavana while Qarase’s wife Leba had 8,000 shares.

It was also confirmed that Mavana Investments had two secretaries in 1999.

They were Laisenia Qarase and his son Qarase Junior.

Mavana Investments had taken a loan from the Fiji Development Bank to purchase 200,000 Class A FHL shares in 1991.

Qarase had applied for the shares.

He was the managing director of FDB and a director of FHL at the time.

Defence witness Naulumatua Josateki Koroi agreed in court today that Mavana Investments bought shares in FHL because the annual dividend payout of FHL was 20 percent.

Koroi, who is a shareholder of Mavana Investments Limited, said the company decided to buy the FHL shares in 1991 to lessen the burden on the people.

He also confirmed that none of the directors of Mavana Investments were paid for their services.

Koroi said Qarase was a director of Mavana Investments.

Upon cross examination by Blanchflower, Koroi said he was approached to give evidence on behalf of Qarase two days ago.

Koroi said no other company had invested in Mavana Investments, however, he confirmed that Q-Ten Investments owned shares in Mavana when he was shown the shareholding listing by Blanchflower.

Koroi said that he did not know that it was a limited company, he only knew that it was a family company of Qarase.

The fifth defence witness in the trial Josua Toa, who is a shareholder of Mavana Investments, today told the court that Qarase recommended other villagers to buy shares in Mavana Investments in a company meeting in 1991.

He said he bought shares in the company to ensure he gets some income when he gets old.

Toa confirmed he bought shares in Mavana Investments through the funds in his Fiji National Provident Fund account.

According to Toa, money received through dividends were used in the upgrading of churches, halls, and improvement of water and electricity supply.

He also confirmed that none of directors of Mavana Investments received any payments.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & Ronal Deo

Qarase’s son to give evidence - July 23

Former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s son, Laisenia Qarase Junior, is expected to give evidence in his father’s Fijian Holdings Limited trial.

Defense counsel Tupou Draunidalo confirmed to Justice Priyantha Fernando today that Qarase Junior, who is now residing in the US, is expected to give evidence via skype.

Meanwhile, Draunidalo said former FHL board director Joe Mar could not give his evidence today due to the unavailability of a solicitor.

Mar, who now lives in England, is expected to give evidence via skype tomorrow.

Qarase’s fourth witness Naulumatua Josateki Koroi has now taken the stand.

Koroi, who is a shareholder of Mavana Investments Limited, said the company decided to buy the FHL shares in 1991 to lessen the burden on the people.

He also confirmed that none of the directors of Mavana Investments were paid for their services.

Koroi said Qarase was a director of Mavana Investments.

Upon cross examination by FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower, Koroi said he was approached to give evidence on behalf of Qarase two days ago.

Koroi said no other company had invested in Mavana Investments, however, he confirmed that Q-Ten Investments owned shares in Mavana when he was shown the shareholding listing by Blanchflower.

Koroi said that he did not know that it was a limited company, he only knew that it was a family company of Qarase.

According to the documents presented in court by Blanchflower, it has been revealed that Q-Ten Investments had 48,000 shares in Mavana Investments, making it the second largest shareholder in Mavana while Qarase’s wife Leba had 8,000 shares.

It was also confirmed that Mavana Investments had two secretaries in 1999.

They were Laisenia Qarase and his son Qarase Junior.

Mavana Investments had taken a loan from the Fiji Development Bank to purchase 200,000 Class A FHL shares in 1991.

Qarase had applied for the shares.

He was the managing director of FDB and a director of FHL at the time.

Koroi also agreed that Mavana Investments bought shares in FHL because the annual dividend payout of FHL was 20 percent.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The case relates to the allotment and issuance of the FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & Ronal Deo

Joe Mar expected to testify in FHL trial - July 23

Former Fijian Holdings Limited board director Joe Mar is expected to give evidence for the defence in the Laisenia Qarase FHL trial this morning.

Mar is currently in England and is expected to give evidence via Skype.

Three out of the six witnesses for Qarase have so far taken the stand in the trial.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The case relates to the allotment and issuance of the FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Joe Mar to be Qarase’s witness on Monday - July 20

Three out of the six witnesses for Laisenia Qarase have so far taken the stand in the Fijian Holdings trial and there is confirmation today that former FHL board member Joe Mar is expected to be the next witness.

Mar is currently in England and is expected to give evidence via Skype.

Earlier today Qarase confirmed to High Court Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando that he has preferred to remain silent and will not take the stand in the trial.

His lawyer Tupou Draunidalo then opened the case for the defence saying that their case is different from the prosecution and they are only required to establish doubt on the charges.

She said under the company laws, if a person does not declare his interest, he is liable for a fine of $1,000.

Draunidalo said it would be wrong for the accused to face charges carrying a prison sentence.

Draunidalo said the then Fijian Holdings Limited directors would have to be blind or deaf if they did not know that Qarase had an interest in Mavana Investments, Q-Ten Investments and Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited.

She said these details were read out to the directors and they also saw the details.

Draunidalo said an important and big part of the prosecution’s case is that Qarase did not declare his interest but she said they will present their evidence to show that everyone who needed to know were informed.

She also said that Qarase was open about what happened with the three companies and he did not jump the queue to get FHL shares as Draunidalo said at the time many people did not want the shares.

Draunidalo then called their first witness Usaia Ravono who is an operational risks officer.

Ravono confirmed that he conducts audits at Westpac Fiji’s branches.

He was shown a document by Draunidalo and Ravono confirmed that it was a Significant Cash Transaction Form which is filled in when there is a bank transaction above the threshold of $10,000.

This form was for August 2009 for Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited for a withdrawal for a dividend payout to the shareholders.

Upon questioning by Draunidalo, Ravono confirmed that there was nothing suspicious or fraudulent after seeing the form.

The second witness for the defence was retired PWD watchman and a shareholder of Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited Bai Tikoikoro.

Tikoikoro said he received annual dividends of $400 in cash from the chairman of Cicia Co-op Isireli Mokunitulevu.

When first questioned by Draunidalo, Tikoikoro said he did not know who was the financial adviser of Cicia Co-op however he confirmed later that it was Laisenia Qarase.

He also said that Qarase was not a director of the company.

Upon questioning by FICAC senior counsel Blanchflower, Tikoikoro said Qarase did not receive payments to be the financial adviser of Cicia.

He also said that he cannot recall whether Cicia Co-op had shares in FHL and whether the company still owns shares in FHL.

He said he also cannot recall how much he was paid when he was working as a watchman.

Current Fiji Development Bank general manager business risk Navitalai Cakacaka then took the stand and confirmed that there was a loan scheme for indigenous Fijians to purchase shares in FHL for those who were registered under the Vola Ni Kawa Bula.

He also recalled that there was a rush to purchase shares in 1991 and 1992.

FICAC senior counsel Michael Blanchflower during cross examination questioned the witness about the increase in the demand for shares.

Cakacaka said the demand became greater when FHL became a public company.

He also confirmed that Qarase was the managing director of FDB at the time.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The case relates to the allotment and issuance of the FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & Tokasa Rainima

I will not take the stand says Qarase - July 20

Former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has today confirmed to High Court Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando that he has preferred to remain silent in the Fijian Holdings trial and will not take the stand.

Justice Fernando today explained to Qarase about his rights and said that he can give evidence on his behalf or call witnesses to present his case.

Qarase then said that he has opted to remain silent.

His lawyer Tupou Draunidalo then opened the case for the defence saying that their case is different from the prosecution, and they are only required to establish doubt on the charges.

She said under the company laws, if a person does not declare his interest, he is liable for a fine of $1,000.

Draunidalo said it would be wrong for the accused to face charges carrying a prison sentence.

Draunidalo said the then Fijian Holdings Limited directors would have to be blind or deaf if they did not know that Qarase had an interest in Mavana Investments, Q-Ten Investments and Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited.

She said these details were read out to the directors and they also saw the details.

Draunidalo said an important and big part of the prosecution’s case is that Qarase did not declare his interest but she said they will present their evidence to show that everyone who needed to know were informed.

She also said that Qarase was open about what happened with the three companies and he did not jump the queue to get FHL shares as Draunidalo said at the time many people did not want the shares.

Draunidalo then called their first witness Usaia Ravono, who is an operational risks officer.

Ravono confirmed that he conducts audits at Westpac Fiji’s branches.

He was shown a document by Draunidalo and Ravono confirmed that it was a Significant Cash Transaction Form which is filled in when there is a bank transaction above the threshold of $10,000.

This form was for August 2009 for Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited for a withdrawal for a dividend payout to the shareholders.

Upon questioning by Draunidalo, Ravono confirmed that there was nothing suspicious or fraudulent after seeing the form.

FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower had no questions.

The second witness for the defence was retired PWD watchman and a shareholder of Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited Bai Tikoikoro.

Tikoikoro said he received annual dividends of $400 in cash from the chairman of Cicia Co-op Isireli Mokunitulevu.

When first questioned by Draunidalo, Tikoikoro said he did not know who was the financial adviser of Cicia Co-op however he confirmed later that it was Laisenia Qarase.

He also said that Qarase was not a director of the company.

Upon questioning by FICAC senior counsel Blanchflower, Tikoikoro said Qarase did not receive payments to be the financial adviser of Cicia.

He also said that he cannot recall whether Cicia Co-op had shares in FHL and whether the company still owns shares in FHL.

He said he also cannot recall how much he was paid when he was working as a watchman.

When questioned, Tikoikoro said he is not Qarase’s friend and he is not involved in the operations of Cicia Co-op.

Tikoikoro also confirmed to Blanchflower that the people of Cicia like Qarase for the services he has given them.

The third witness is currently taking the stand.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The case relates to the allotment and issuance of the FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Judge rules Qarase has a case to answer - July 20

Former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has a case to answer in the Fijian Holdings trial which will continue today.

High Court Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando made his ruling yesterday saying he carefully considered FICAC and defense submissions and found that there is evidence that the accused made the application for shares on behalf of Q-Ten Investments, Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited and Mavana Investments Limited.

Also yesterday, Laisenia Qarase in consultation with the defense counsel has decided not to give evidence in the Fijian Holdings trial.

Meanwhile, in another ruling in the case yesterday, Justice Fernando refused the application for a permanent stay on proceedings in Qarase’s FHL trial.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

The case resumes at 9.45 this morning with the defense bringing in two witnesses.

Story by: Dhanjay Deo

Qarase has a case to answer says FICAC - July 18

FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower stressed that Laisenia Qarase has a case to answer on the six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

Blanchflower made the submission to Justice Priyantha Fernando today after Qarase’s lawyer Tupou Draunidalo made an application for "no case to answer" for her client.

Blanchflower said that the documents presented in the case prove that Qarase was appointed as the financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board on 8th March 1979 under the Fijian Affairs Act and Regulations.

He also said that documents prove that Qarase was to be paid a retainer fee for his services and he maintained his position until he resigned with effect from 19th March 1999.

The FICAC senior counsel said this was also confirmed by FICAC witnesses Ratu Meli Bainimarama and Ratu Timoci Vesikula.

He said that witness Sitiveni Weleilakeba also confirmed that Qarase gave financial advice to both the FAB and the Great Council of Chiefs on financial matters.

Blanchflower said that the positions held by Qarase as financial advisor of the FAB and GCC brought him within the definition of employed in the public service under the Penal Code.

Blanchflower said that the agreed facts are that Qarase applied for the Class A FHL shares for Q-Ten Investments, Mavana Investments Limited and Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, and then facilitated the issuance and allotment of shares as he was part of the FHL board meetings that approved these.

He also said that there are no records of declaration of interest or abstaining from the vote.

Blanchflower said that Qarase was privy to and had advantage of obtaining first-hand information on the opening of FHL shareholding.

He said that as a person employed in the public service, Qarase should not have applied for FHL shares on behalf of the three companies in which he had an interest.

Blanchflower said instead, Qarase took advantage and abused the information he obtained in the course of and in relation to his public office.

He said that Qarase failed to make any disclosure of his private interests in the three companies to FHL, FAB or GCC.

Blanchflower said that Q-Ten Investments was a family owned company of the Qarase family, its directors were his wife and sons and Qarase’s interest in the company is also evidenced by him providing personal guarantee with his wife for liabilities of Q-Ten.

On Mavana Investments, Blanchflower said that it was initially owned by among others, Qarase’s wife, and Qarase was a director of Mavana.

He also said that Qarase acquired shares in Mavana within six months of the company being allotted FHL shares.

He also said that Qarase was a financial advisor and consultant of Cicia Plantation Co-op.

He said that Qarase was also a trustee and director of Cicia.

Blanchflower then said that the people from Qarase’s family, villagers and people from the Lau Province collectively became the biggest shareholders of FHL, in prejudice of the rights of all other eligible Fijian institutions and people to FHL shareholding.

Earlier today, Draunidalo filed the application for "no case to answer".

Draunidalo said that in her submission on the six abuse of office charges faced by Qarase, the prosecution has not proven the necessary elements which include employment in the public service which is connected with the alleged abusive act, an arbitrary act done in abuse of authority, prejudice to others and gain to the accused.

Draunidalo said that on the three discharge of duty charges, the prosecution has not proven employment in the public service, existence of any property of a special character and any culpable discharge of duty by the accused in respect of property in which the accused has an alleged private interest.

Draunidalo said that in the prosecution’s case, all charges alleged that Laisenia Qarase was a person employed in the public service because he was employed as director of Fijian Holdings Limited, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

She said that it was established earlier in relation to Ratu Meli Bainimarama’s evidence that there is no such position as advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & Tokasa Rainima

Judge expected to rule on "no case to answer" application - July 18

High Court Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando is expected to rule on the "no case to answer" application by Laisenia Qarase’s lawyer tomorrow afternoon.

This was highlighted in Qarase’s Fijian Holdings trial by Justice Fernando yesterday afternoon.

He also said that if he will rule that there is a case to answer, then Laisenia Qarase will take the stand.

FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower has stressed that Qarase has a case to answer on the six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

Blanchflower said that the documents presented in the case prove that Qarase was appointed as the financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board on 8th March 1979 under the Fijian Affairs Act and Regulations.

He said that witness Sitiveni Weleilakeba also confirmed that Qarase gave financial advice to both FAB and the Great Council of Chiefs on financial matters.

Blanchflower said that the position held by Qarase as financial advisor of FAB and GCC brought him within the definition of employed in public service under the Penal Code.

Blanchflower said that the agreed facts are that Qarase applied for the Class A FHL shares for Q-Ten Investments, Mavana Investments Limited and Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, and then facilitated the issuance and allotment of shares as he was part of the FHL board meetings that approved these.

He also said that there are no records of declaration of interest or abstaining from the vote.

He said that as a person employed in the public service, Qarase should not have applied for FHL shares on behalf of the three companies in which he had an interest.

Blanchflower said that Q-Ten Investments was a family owned company of the Qarase family, its directors were his wife and sons and Qarase’s interest in the company is also evidenced by him providing personal guarantee with his wife for liabilities of Q-Ten.

On Mavana Investments, Blanchflower said that it was initially owned by among others, Qarase’s wife, and Qarase was a director of Mavana.

He also said that Qarase acquired shares in Mavana within six months of the company being allotted FHL shares.

He also said that Qarase was a financial advisor and consultant of Cicia Plantation Co-op.

Qarase’s lawyer Tupou Draunidalo said that in her submission on the six abuse of office charges faced by Qarase, the prosecution has not proven the necessary elements which include employment in the public service which is connected with the alleged abusive act, an arbitrary act done in abuse of authority, prejudice to others and gain to the accused.

Draunidalo said that on the three discharge of duty charges, the prosecution has not proven employment in the public service, existence of any property of a special character and any culpable discharge of duty by the accused in respect of property in which the accused has an alleged private interest.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & Tokasa Rainima

Qarase’s lawyer files "no case to answer" submission today - July 17

Former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s lawyer has today filed an application for no case to answer in Qarase’s Fijian Holdings trial.

Tupou Draunidalo said the elements of the nine charges were not met.

She also said that FICAC did not prove that Qarase was holding public office at the time of the alleged offence.

However, FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower said former Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Timoci Vesikula said in court that Qarase was holding public office.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The case relates to the allotment and issuance of the FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & Tokasa Rainima

Fair trial possible, is happening says Blanchflower - July 16

A fair trial is possible and is happening.

Those were the words of FICAC senior counsel Michael Blanchflower while replying to former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s lawyer Tupou Draunidalo’s application for a permanent stay on proceedings in relation to Qarase’s Fijian Holdings trial today.

Draunidalo in her application this morning said that a fair trial is not possible as potential witnesses have passed away.

She highlighted the death of former chairman of Fijian Holdings Limited and Fiji Development Bank Lyle Cupit and the death of former Minister of Finance Josevata Kamikamica.

On this, FICAC senior counsel Michael Blanchflower replied that both Cupit and Kamikamica were not present in the FHL board meetings held on 27th December 1991 and 28th February 1992 where the board decided to allot shares to Mavana Investments, Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.

Referring to affidavits, court records and evidence given, Blanchflower said that in the four and half years since 2008 when Qarase was charged, no attempts were made by the defence to locate other potential witnesses who are alive or could testify for the defence.

He added that FICAC never received any application to locate any document that may assist the defence.

Blanchflower added that in early 2007, FICAC was established and in late 2007 this matter came to FICAC which took six to eight months to be investigated before Qarase was charged in 2008.

He stressed the defence did not ask any witnesses in the trial about missing witnesses and they never informed the court that there were undue delays.

While referring to the undue delay by police for prosecuting Qarase, Blanchflower said that FICAC cannot be responsible for what another law enforcement agency did or did not do.

Qarase’s lawyer then said that the Director of Public Prosecutions office who sanctioned this proceeding did nothing between 1992 to 2008.

She said that there is no explanation what facts arose between that time, then in 2008 the DPP had a light bulb moment.

Draunidalo said that they are not blaming FICAC.

She also said that during cross examination, FICAC witness Sitiveni Weleilakeba had said that Cupit was the main player.

Draunidalo said that based on this, the unavailability of Cupit is a great disadvantage to Qarase.

She added delay in the case has caused loss of witnesses and impairment of memory.

High Court Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando will rule on notice.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The case relates to the allotment and issuance of the FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & Filipe Naikaso

Qarase’s lawyer files for permanent stay - July 16

Former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s lawyer has today filed an application for a permanent stay on proceedings in relation to Qarase’s Fijian Holdings trial.

Defence lawyer Tupou Draunidalo has filed the application on the ground that potential witnesses have passed away.

She highlighted the death of the former chairman of Fijian Holdings Limited and Fiji Development Bank Lyle Cupit and the death of former Minister of Finance Josevata Kamikamica.

She also said that during cross examination, FICAC witness Sitiveni Weleilakeba had said that Cupit was the main player.

Draunidalo said that based on this, the unavailability of Cupit is a great disadvantage to Qarase.

She also raised the issue that Qarase was charged in 2008.

Draunidalo said that the authorities waited about 16 years to investigate the matter and no explanation was given for the delay.

She said that they can only refer to witnesses who have taken the stand and has submitted that the accused will not be able to receive a fair trial.

Draunidalo is currently making her submission before FICAC responds on this matter.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The case relates to the allotment and issuance of the FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & Ronal Deo

Qarase’s "no case to answer" application expected today - July 16

Former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s lawyer Tupou Draunidalo is expected to file her submission by 9.30am today in relation to their "no case to answer" application in the Fijian Holdings trial.

Presiding Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando has also ruled that FICAC is to respond at 3pm today.

The grounds on the "no case to answer" was not highlighted in court.

Justice Fernando will deliver his ruling at 9.30am tomorrow.

FICAC has already presented its eighth witnesses in the case.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The case relates to the allotment and issuance of the FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Judge to hear "No Case To Answer" application

A submission of no case to answer was highlighted by defense counsel Tupou Draunidalo in court today in former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s Fijian Holdings trial.

Presiding Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando ruled that the submissions are to be filed at 9.30am Monday and FICAC to respond at 3pm Monday.

The grounds on the "no case to answer" was not highlighted in court.

Justice Fernando will deliver his ruling at 9.30am Tuesday.

FICAC has already presented its eighth witnesses in the case.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The case relates to the allotment and issuance of the FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.

Story by: Tokasa Rainima

8th FICAC witness testifies

FICAC’s eighth witness in Laisenia Qarase’s Fijian Holdings trial Salimoni Karusi has today confirmed the Fiji Development Bank loan approvals to Q-Ten Investments Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited in the 1990s.

Karusi, who is the senior legal officer of FDB, provides legal opinion to the bank.

He also assisted in the search for the original bank records which were given to FICAC.

Documents were shown to Karusi by FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower in court today and he confirmed that the FDB board approved a loan of $160,000 to Q-Ten investments on May 28th 1992.

Karusi said this was signed off by the late former FDB chairman Lyle Cupit.

The witness confirmed that there was no declaration of interest during the loan approval.

Laisenia Qarase was the managing director of FDB at the time and was present in that meeting according to the minutes.

Other FDB board minutes showed a $160,000 loan approval to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, $150,000 loan approval to Mavana Investments Limited and $120,000 to Bakani Investments Limited.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The case relates to the allotment and issuance of the FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.

Blanchflower has told the court that Q-Ten Investments is a company owned by Qarase’s wife and children, Mavana Investments is a company owned by some of Qarase’s family members and villagers where Qarase is from, while Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited is a company where Qarase was appointed as an advisor.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & Tokasa Rainima

8th FICAC witness takes stand

The eighth FICAC witness in the Laisenia Qarase Fijian Holdings trial is expected to take the stand this morning.

Yesterday, Westpac Bank senior operational risk and compliance officer Epeli Racule confirmed from bank evidence confiscated from Westpac by FICAC officers in July 2011, that Qarase’s signature still appeared as director of Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited in a transaction dated January 4th 2003.

He added that dividend paid to Cicia Plantation Co-op shareholders was $40,392 in August 2009.

Qarase’s lawyer Tupou Draunidalo questioned Racule if Cicia Co-op complied with all banking requirements.

He replied that he cannot say that they complied because he could not find the company’s Memorandum of Articles of Association in the file.

The seventh witness was acting registrar of companies Abhi Ram who confirmed that on December 12th 1990, 42,198 shares were owned by Qarase’s wife and children in Q-Ten Investments.

He also confirmed that on January 17th 1992, Qarase resigned as director of Q-Ten Investments and his 22,541 shares were transferred to a Josefa Qarase based on records.

Ram added that Q-Ten had complied with all requirements by their office and that if Q-Ten wanted to acquire shares from elsewhere, there was no need to lodge an application with their office.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

The case resumes before Justice Priyantha Fernando today.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & William Waqavakatoga

Two more FICAC witnesses testify

Two more FICAC witnesses have given evidence in the Laisenia Qarase Fijian Holdings trial this afternoon.

The sixth witness was Westpac Bank senior operational risk and compliance officer Epeli Racule.

He confirmed from bank evidence confiscated from Westpac by FICAC officers in July 2011, that Qarase’s signature still appeared as director of Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited in a transaction dated January 4th 2003.

He added that dividend paid to Cicia Plantation Co-op shareholders was $40,392 in August 2009.

Qarase’s lawyer Tupou Draunidalo questioned Racule if Cicia Co-op complied with all banking requirements.

He replied that he cannot say that they complied because he could not find the company’s Memorandum or Articles of Association in the file.

The seventh witness was acting registrar of companies Abhi Ram who confirmed that on December 12th 1990, 42,198 shares were owned by Qarase’s wife and children in Q-Ten Investments.

He also confirmed that on January 17th 1992, Qarase resigned as director of Q-Ten Investments and his 22,541 shares were transferred to a Josefa Qarase based on records.

Ram added that Q-Ten had complied with all requirements by their office and that if Q-Ten wanted to acquire shares from elsewhere, there was no need to lodge an application with their office.

Earlier today, FICAC witness, chairman of Cicia Plantation Co-op Isireli Mokunitulevu confirmed that Qarase was the financial adviser of Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited when they purchased shares in FHL.

When questioned, Mokunitulevu said Qarase was not paid as an adviser however Cicia village gave him $2,000 for the 2006 general elections campaign.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

The eighth FICAC witness will take the stand before Justice Priyantha Fernando tomorrow.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & William Waqavakatoga

5th witness takes stand

FICAC’s fifth witness Adriu Ledua Ratumaiyale has taken the stand in the Laisenia Qarase Fijian Holdings trial.

Speaking through an interpreter, Ratumaiyale, secretary of Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited from 1982-1995, was asked by senior counsel Michael Blanchflower whether he was present in any meeting that discussed the buying of FHL shares.

He confirmed he was present and that Qarase was not in attendance.

He added it was the then manager Eroni Vukicea that informed the Co-op of their intentions to buy FHL shares.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

Story by: William Waqavakatoga

4th witness confirms Qarase was financial adviser of Cicia Plantation

The fourth FICAC witness giving evidence in the Laisenia Qarase Fijian Holdings trial has confirmed that Qarase was the financial adviser of Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited when they purchased shares in Fijian Holdings Limited.

Isireli Mokunitulevu, who is the current chairman of Cicia Plantation Co-op Society and Assistant Principal of Gospel High School, took the witness stand today.

Upon questioning by FICAC senior counsel Michael Blanchflower, Mokunitulevu said to his knowledge, Cicia Plantation Co-op was established in the 1970s and there were two advisers.

He confirmed that the advisers were the then Minister for Agriculture Chris Walker and Qarase.

The witness confirmed that Qarase gave advise to the company in relation to the running of the copra plantation and buying of shares in certain companies including FHL.

He confirmed that Cicia Plantation sold properties owned in Namadi Heights and Reki Street to purchase FHL shares.

He said this advise was given by Qarase.

Mokunitulevu confirmed that the company took a loan from Fiji Development Bank and he said he knew that Qarase was the manager of FDB at the time.

When questioned, Mokunitulevu said Qarase was not paid as an adviser however the company gave him $2,000 for the 2006 general elections campaign.

During the cross examination by Qarase’s counsel Tupou Draunidalo, Mokunitulevu confirmed that Qarase was appointed as the adviser for Cicia Plantation Co-op after a request by the late former President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

He also said Qarase managed the properties of the company but was not paid for this.

The witness said Qarase was also a signatory of Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited’s cheques.

FICAC’s fifth witness Adriu Ledua Ratumaiyale is currently taking the stand.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & William Waqavakatoga

I was scared after seeing the FHL share listing says Vesikula

The third FICAC witness in the Laisenia Qarase trial, former Fijian Affairs Minister Ratu Timoci Vesikula said that he got scared when he realized that 80% of FHL shares were owned by indigenous Fijian family companies and only 20% by the provincial councils.

He saw the file when he took up the minister’s portfolio in June 1992.

Vesikula added the total value of shares came close to $4 million.

Vesikula highlighted he was confused why the provincial councils were not major shareholders after it was decided by the Great Council of Chiefs that each provincial council contribute $50,000 for shares however this still did not result in them becoming major shareholders.

11 provinces had paid the amount as agreed.

Vesikula said Qarase was involved in the establishment of FHL from the very beginning.

He told the FICAC counsel that when he became minister, Qarase was already financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and GCC.

During cross examination by defence counsel Tupou Draunidalo, Vesikula was questioned whether Qarase was protector of indigenous Fijian interests as financial adviser to which he agreed.

Vesikula said it was his duty to protect the Fijian Affairs Board, the Great Council of Chiefs and other Fijian institutions, and that the minister is the ultimate protector.

Vesikula said that at his time as minister, he questioned Qarase’s advice.

Vesikula added he did not recall seeing any documents by his predecessor Lt Colonel Vatiliai Navunisaravi that questioned the financial advice given by Qarase.

Ratu Timoci Vesikula was the third FICAC witness.

The case resumes this morning before Justice Priyantha Fernando with FICAC’s fourth witness taking the stand.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

Story by: William Waqavakatoga & Ronal Deo

Weleilakeba reveals Qarase had shares in Mavana Investments

FICAC witness and former CEO of Fijian Holdings Limited Sitiveni Weleilakeba has revealed in the Laisenia Qarase trial today that Qarase had shares in Mavana Investments, was a director of Q-Ten Investments and a financial adviser of Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited.

FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower asked Weleilakeba if he can confirm whether Qarase became a shareholder of Mavana Investments after the company was alloted 200,000 Class A FHL shares.

Weleilakeba confirmed that Qarase was not a shareholder of Mavana Investments at the time of the application of the shares but he became a shareholder on about 11th August 1992.

This has now been included in the agreed facts in the case.

Blanchflower then presented copies of dividend cheques sent to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited.

These cheques were sent to the chairman of Cicia Plantation, C/O Laisenia Qarase, Fiji Development Bank.

Weleilakeba explained that he sent the cheque to Qarase because he was the initial applicant of the FHL shares and he also went on to say that Qarase was a financial adviser of Cicia Plantation.

Upon questioning, Weleilakeba said he saw correspondence and spoke to people who confirmed that Qarase was the financial adviser of Cicia Plantation Co-op.

Blanchflower then presented the copy of a FHL interim dividend cheque of $20,000 on April 1st 1993 to Q-Ten Investments Limited.

It was addressed to Laisenia Qarase at Fiji Development Bank.

When asked why the correspondence was addressed to Qarase, Weleilakeba said that Qarase was a director of Q-Ten Investments.

Blanchflower raised a question based on Draunidalo saying to Weleilakeba yesterday that Qarase verbally declared his interest in relation to Cicia Plantation Co-op, Mavana Investments and Q-Ten Investments before the FHL board made the decision to allot the shares to the companies.

Weleilakeba said if the declaration was not made, it was not recorded in the minutes of the FHL board meetings.

Weleilakeba said Qarase did not declare his interest in any of the minutes that he prepared.

Weleilakeba then confirmed to Blanchflower that when his company Stiks Investments Limited applied for 150,000 FHL Class A shares, Weleilakeba declared his interest in the board meeting and volunteered to remove himself from the meeting room.

Blanchflower has already told the court that Q-Ten Investments is a company owned by Qarase’s wife and children, Mavana Investments is a company owned by some of Qarase’s family members and villagers where Qarase is from, while Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited is a company where Qarase was appointed as an advisor.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Former Deputy PM takes stand

A former Fijian Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister has taken the stand at the Laisenia Qarase trial in the Suva High Court this afternoon.

Upon questioning by FICAC lawyer Michael Blanchflower, Ratu Timoci Vesikula told the court that after being appointed minister in June 1992, he found nothing in the files of individual companies that were allotted FHL A-class shares, where Qarase declared his interest in Q-Ten Investments, Mavana Investments and Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

Story by: Ronal Deo

Qarase had shares in Mavana Investments says FICAC witness

FICAC witness and former CEO of Fijian Holdings Limited Sitiveni Weleilakeba has confirmed in the Laisenia Qarase trial today that Qarase had shares in Mavana Investments, was a director of Q-Ten Investments and a financial adviser of Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited.

While reexamining Weleilakeba after the cross examination by Qarase’s lawyer Tupou Draunidalo, FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower asked Weleilakeba if he can confirm whether Qarase became a shareholder of Mavana Investments after the company was allotted 200,000 Class A FHL shares.

Weleilakeba confirmed that Qarase was not a shareholder of Mavana Investments at the time of the application of the shares but he became a shareholder on about 11th August 1992.

This has now been included in the agreed facts in the case.

Blanchflower then presented copies of dividend cheques sent to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited.

These cheques were sent to the chairman of Cicia Plantation, C/O Laisenia Qarase, Fiji Development Bank.

Weleilakeba explained that he sent the cheque to Qarase because he was the initial applicant of the FHL shares and he also went on to say that Qarase was a financial adviser of Cicia Plantation.

Upon questioning, Weleilakeba said he saw correspondence and spoke to people who confirmed that Qarase was the financial adviser of Cicia Plantation Co-op.

Blanchflower then presented the copy of a FHL interim dividend cheque of $20,000 on April 1st 1993 to Q-Ten Investments Limited.

It was addressed to Laisenia Qarase at Fiji Development Bank.

When asked why the correspondence was addressed to Qarase, Weleilakeba said that Qarase was a director of Q-Ten Investments.

Blanchflower raised a question based on Draunidalo saying to Weleilakeba yesterday that Qarase verbally declared his interest in relation to Cicia Plantation Co-op, Mavana Investments and Q-Ten Investments before the FHL board made the decision to allot the shares to the companies.

Weleilakeba said if the declaration was not made, it was not recorded in the minutes of the FHL board meetings.

Weleilakeba said Qarase did not declare his interest in any of the minutes that he prepared.

Weleilakeba then confirmed to Blanchflower that when his company Stiks Investments Limited applied for 150,000 FHL Class A shares, Weleilakeba declared his interest in the board meeting and volunteered to remove himself from the meeting room.

He said although he had no voting powers as the company secretary, the declaration of interest is a requirement under the company’s Articles of Memorandum of Understanding.

Weleilakeba then confirmed that he did not participate in any discussions on Stiks Investments but the then chairman Lyle Cupit asked him to sit in the meeting as he had to take the minutes of the FHL board meeting.

Blanchflower has already told the court that Q-Ten Investments is a company owned by Qarase’s wife and children, Mavana Investments is a company owned by some of Qarase’s family members and villagers where Qarase is from, while Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited is a company where Qarase was appointed as an advisor.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Blanchflower expected to continue questioning FICAC witness - July 11

As day 5 of the Laisenia Qarase trial is set to start this morning, FICAC senior counsel Michael Blanchflower is expected to continue questioning FICAC witness Sitiveni Weleilakeba.

Qarase’s counsel Tupou Draunidalo has already finished cross examining Weleilakeba.

During the cross examination, Blanchflower objected to questions raised by Draunidalo that it was not unfair to indigenous Fijians how the FHL shares were allotted in the early 1990s.

Draunidalo questioned Weleilakeba whether he thought it was unfair to other indigenous Fijians when his company Stiks Investments applied for 150,000 Class A shares in FHL.

Weleilakeba said that he took the opportunity to invest when it was offered to him.

He went on to say that at the time, FHL was well known in the indigenous Fijian community and the opportunities at FHL were well known to the community.

Upon questioning, Weleilakeba also said that the option to take a loan from the Fiji Development Bank to purchase shares were also well known to the indigenous Fijians.

However, Blanchflower objected to Draunidalo’s question to Weleilakeba that this would mean that the allotment of shares were not unfair to the community.

Blanchflower said that Weleilakeba cannot speak about fairness or unfairness to the indigenous Fijian community as people would think differently on this issue.

Meanwhile, Sitiveni Weleilakeba confirmed in the trial yesterday that during his time as company secretary, no director showed any dissent during the board resolutions.

Upon questioning by Blanchflower, Weleilakeba confirmed this and also said that Laisenia Qarase was present during these board meetings.

Weleilakeba also confirmed that the share application letters for companies such as Q-Ten Investments and Mavana Investments which were forwarded to the board did not have any details on the shareholdings of families in those companies.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & Filipe Naikaso

Blanchflower objects to question - July 10

FICAC senior counsel Michael Blanchflower in the Laisenia Qarase Fijian Holdings trial today objected to questions raised by Qarase’s lawyer that it was not unfair to indigenous Fijians how the FHL shares were allotted in the early 1990s.

Qarase’s counsel Tupou Draunidalo questioned FICAC witness and former FHL CEO Sitiveni Weleilakeba whether he thought it was unfair to other indigenous Fijians when his company Stiks Investments applied for 150,000 Class A shares in FHL.

Weleilakeba said that he took the opportunity to invest when it was offered to him.

He went on to say that at the time, FHL was well known in the indigenous Fijian community and the opportunities at FHL were well known to the community.

Upon questioning, Weleilakeba also said that the option to take a loan from the Fiji Development Bank to purchase shares was also well known to the indigenous Fijians.

However, Blanchflower objected to Draunidalo’s question to Weleilakeba that this would mean that the allotment of shares were not unfair to the community.

Blanchflower said Weleilakeba cannot speak about fairness or unfairness to the indigenous Fijian community as people would think differently on this issue.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Qarase verbally declared his interest says defense - July 10

Former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s lawyer has confirmed in the Fijian Holdings High Court trial that she will present some FHL directors in the early 1990s as witnesses who will confirm that Qarase verbally declared his interest with the companies listed in the charges against him.

While cross examining FICAC witness and former CEO of FHL Sitiveni Weleilakeba today, Qarase’s counsel Tupou Draunidalo put to him that Qarase verbally declared his interest in Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Q-Ten Investments and association with Mavana Investments Limited prior to decisions made by the FHL board.

Weleilakeba said if the declaration is not in the minutes of the FHL board meetings, then it was not made.

He said the directors also had time to correct the minutes in the following meeting.

Draunidalo then questioned Weleilakeba whether he can recall or heard during the FHL board meetings that the late former FHL chairman Lyle Cupit told Qarase not to speak or vote when discussions took place on the application of the shares for Cicia Plantation Co-op, Q-Ten Investments and Mavana Investments.

Weleilakeba replied that he cannot recall Cupit saying that and it would have been recorded in the minutes.

Upon questioning, Weleilakeba also confirmed that after his company searches conducted for applicants of Class A shares at the time, Qarase did not own any shares in Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Q-Ten Investments and Mavana Investments.

Weleilakeba also confirmed that the dividend returns for Class A shareholders were very attractive after Draunidalo asked him whether the dividends have returned the initial investments many times over.

The dividends for Class A shares at the time was set at 20 percent a year while Class B shareholders received no dividends.

There were several documents shown to Weleilakeba where FHL dividend payments were made to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society, Q-Ten Investments and Mavana Investments.

At the same time according to the arrangement at the time, part of the dividends of these companies was payable to the Fiji Development Bank as the companies had purchased the FHL shares by taking loans from FDB.

Weleilakeba also confirmed that Qarase was not a shareholder of any of these three companies at the time of the application of the shares.

Another document dated November 3rd 1993 was then presented by Draunidalo which showed the special resolutions of the FHL AGM.

Weleilakeba confirmed that the presence of all shareholders including FAB was necessary and in that AGM, all the companies allotted FHL shares to that date including Cicia Plantation, Q-Ten Investments and Mavana Investments were ratified by the shareholders in attendance.

Copies of some FHL cheques were also presented by Draunidalo which showed only Weleilakeba signing the cheques although the signatories were him and two directors.

Weleilakeba looked at the cheques and confirmed that only his signature was on them.

He was also questioned on the 150,000 Class A FHL shares he previously owned under a company called Stiks Investments with his former wife Kelera Uluiviti.

Weleilakeba confirmed that 80 percent of the purchase of the shares was funded through a FDB loan.

Upon questioning, he also said that he analyzed the application for Stiks Investments and submitted it to the board for approval.

However, he said that he had declared his interest.

Meanwhile, Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The case will resume before Justice Priyantha Fernando at 9.30am tomorrow.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Allotment of shares was a collective decision says Weleilakeba - July 10

The allotment of shares to Q-Ten Investments, Cicia Plantation Co-op Limited and Mavana Investments Limited was a collective decision of the Fijian Holdings Limited board and not the decision of only one director, Laisenia Qarase alone.

Former CEO of FHL Sitiveni Weleilakeba confirmed this while answering questions by defense counsel Tupou Draunidalo this afternoon in Qarase’s FHL trial.

Weleilakeba said the FHL directors also included the Minister of Finance, Minister of Fijian Affairs and the Governor of Reserve Bank at that time.

He said Qarase was one of the nine directors in FHL.

He confirmed there was nothing in the Articles of Memorandum of FHL when it was a private company to restrict directors or executives from participating in board meetings that allotted shares to a company in which the director or executive had an interest in.

He stressed that there was nothing in the Articles of Memorandum to restrict directors and executives of FHL to apply for shares on behalf of another entity.

Weleilakeba also mentioned that Qarase was absent from the meeting held on 31st December 1993 where FHL made a decision to pay out a 10 percent dividend of $746,465 for Class A shares.

This interim dividend was paid out on April 1st 1994.

Weleilakeba confirmed that dividend cheques were only signed after board approval.

The case is continuing this hour.

Story by: Ronal Deo

Draunidalo questions Weleilakeba - July 09

The cross examination of FICAC witness and former CEO of Fijian Holdings Limited Sitiveni Weleilakeba commenced this afternoon in the Laisenia Qarase court trial as the defense counsel raised the question why only the FHL board resolutions were recorded in the minutes of the meetings.

Qarase’s lawyer Tupou Draunidalo said to Weleilakeba whether it would be correct to say that not recording the discussions prior to the board decision reached is a practice that is not good corporate governance.

Weleilakeba, who was the minute taker as FHL secretary, said this was done 20 years ago and the then chairman, the late Lyle Cupit, only wanted the board resolutions recorded.

Draunidalo also questioned Weleilakeba if he received any training on holding the position of company secretary.

Weleilakeba said he can confirm that he received no training in this area.

Qarase’s lawyer also said that it would be correct to say that they just have to rely on Weleilakeba’s words and assume that Qarase voted on all the resolutions brought forward to the FHL board.

Draunidalo also told Weleilakeba that he did not bother to record the discussions before a board decision or even if someone abstained from voting.

Weleilakeba replied that there was time given to the directors to correct anything in the minutes in the following board meeting.

Upon questioning, Weleilakeba also confirmed that all the applications for FHL shares by Qarase for Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited were attached with all the details when it was forwarded to the board for approval of allotment of the shares.

He also confirmed that in the application papers, Qarase was listed as a financial adviser for Cicia Plantation and as a director for Mavana Investments and Q-Ten Investments.

It was also confirmed by Weleilakeba that employees and board directors were not disallowed to purchase FHL shares at the time as they only had to meet the criteria which was that the person has to be an indigenous Fijian registered under the Vola Ni Kawa Bula, has money to purchase the shares and the person had to be part of 50 shareholders as the limit stood at 50 at the time.

Weleilakeba confirmed that the only other FHL board director who had applied to purchase shares was Joe Mar.

Upon questioning, Weleilakeba said he is unaware whether board members like Qarase were asked to get more indigenous Fijians into business and purchase FHL shares.

When questioned on whether the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was part of the FHL board, Weleilakeba said Ratu Mara was only the architect of FHL but he never served as a board member.

However, he confirmed that in 1988, Ministers Navunisaravi, Josevata Kamikamica and Berenado Vunibobo were part of the FHL board.

He also confirmed that Reserve Bank of Fiji Governor Ratu Jone Kubuabola was also part of the board.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

FICAC produces more FHL documents - July 09

FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower this morning presented several documents during the Laisenia Qarase court trial showing some of the Fijian Holdings Limited dividend payouts in the early 1990s.

Blanchflower showed FICAC witness and former CEO of FHL Sitiveni Weleilakeba the minutes of the FHL AGM on September 30th 1992, which was also attended by Qarase.

It was agreed in this meeting that the board pay out a dividend of $464,793.

The dividends were paid out on October 1st 1992.

More FHL board papers from December 1987 to June 1992 were presented in court today where it was revealed that dividends were only paid for Class A shares.

In a FHL board meeting in March 1994, Weleilakeba confirmed that the board resolved to pay an interim dividend of $746,465 for Class A shares.

Qarase was not present in the meeting.

Fiji Development Bank documents indicate that a dividend of $40,000 was paid to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited out of which FHL paid $22,000 to FDB and $18,000 to Cicia Plantation directly.

Another FDB account showed that $20,000 was paid to Mavana Investments Limted for the 200,000 Class A shares.

The money was paid to FDB for the company’s loan repayment.

FDB documents also showed in court and confirmed by Weleilakeba that Q-Ten Investments Limited was also paid $20,000.

Weleilakeba confirmed that the three FHL signatories for the dividend account were the late former chairman Lyle Cupit, Qarase and Weleilakeba.

Blanchflower has already told the court that Q-Ten Investments is a company owned by Qarase’s wife and children, Mavana Investments is a company owned by some of Qarase’s family members and villagers where Qarase is from, while Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited is a company where Qarase was appointed as an advisor.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & Ronal Deo

Documents presented show Qarase applied for FHL shares - July 07

Day two of former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s Fijian Holdings trial yesterday saw FICAC senior counsel Michael Blanchflower presenting several documents showing that Qarase had applied for FHL shares for Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments and Q-Ten Investments.

As FICAC witness, former FHL secretary and CEO Sitiveni Weleilakeba took the stand again today, he confirmed after citing documents presented by Blanchflower that between March and May 1992, Qarase applied for 200,000 Class A FHL shares on behalf of Q-Ten Investments.

Weleilakeba also confirmed that Q-Ten Investments Limited was allocated the 200,000 shares in a FHL board meeting on May 29th 1992 after looking at the minutes of the meeting.

It was also confirmed that Qarase was present in the meeting as a director of FHL.

Weleilakeba confirmed that Qarase did not declare his interest.

Blanchflower presented an additional document which was a letter written by Qarase on November 20th 1991 on behalf of Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited to Weleilakeba.

In the letter, Qarase said he was applying on behalf of Cicia Plantation Co-op Society for 180,000 FHL shares and a cheque of $180,000 was enclosed with the letter.

The letter was signed by Qarase and the address for Cicia Plantation Co-op Society was C/0 Laisenia Qarase, Fiji Development Bank.

Qarase was a director of FHL at the time.

Then the minutes of the FHL board meeting on December 27th 1991 recorded by Weleilakeba were presented to him in court by Blanchflower.

He confirmed that the board approved and alloted the 180,000 Class A shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited.

According to the minutes, Qarase attended the meeting as the FHL director and did not declare his interest.

In the same meeting, it was also agreed that the dividends for 1992 would be paid at a rate of 20% for Class A shares.

The next document presented was a letter by Qarase to Weleilakeba on 7th February 1992 as a director of Mavana Investments Limited.

Weleilakeba confirmed that Qarase was a FHL director at the time.

In the signed letter, Qarase applied to purchase 200,000 Class A FHL shares for Mavana Investments and said that if approved, the cash contribution would be paid via the Fiji Development Bank (as FDB was giving loans to indigenous Fijians for their participation in business).

In another minute of the FHL meeting, it was also confirmed that Qarase was part of a meeting that decided that Class A shareholders will get a 10% interim dividend.

This meant that Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited would also get the dividend.

It was highlighted from the minutes that Weleilakeba declared his interest as Stiks Investments Limited made an application to acquire 150,000 Class A shares.

Weleilakeba said he declared his interest as he was a shareholder in Stiks Investments and had a financial interest in the company.

He also stated in court today that no other FHL board member made any such declaration in that meeting.

200,000 shares were alloted to Mavana Investments in the same meeting.

Another letter signed by Qarase from FDB to Weleilakeba dated April 23rd 1992 was presented by FICAC in court where he applied for a further 220,000 Class A FHL shares for Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited.

According to the FHL board minutes of May 29th 1992, Cicia Plantation was alloted the 220,000 shares.

Weleilakeba confirmed Qarase attended the board meeting as a director but did not make a declaration.

Blanchflower has already told the court that Q-Ten Investments is a company owned by Qarase’s wife and children, Mavana Investments is a company owned by some of Qarase’s family members and villagers where Qarase is from, while Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited is a company where Qarase was appointed as an advisor.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

The trial will continue at 9.30am Monday.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Application for permanent stay to be heard on 16th - July 06

The hearing of the application made by former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s legal counsel in the Fijian Holdings trial Samanunu Vaniqi for a permanent stay on the proceedings of the case will be heard on 16th July.

Vaniqi said the application is based on Article 14/3 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

She said this issue is focusing on Qarase’s human rights, not just his constitutional rights.

Both parties are expected to file a response and written submissions next week.

Qarase’s lawyer Samanunu Vaniqi had said yesterday that the application includes affidavits from Qarase and Nawalu Baravilala.

Story by: Ronal Deo

Second day of Qarase’s FHL trial kicks off - July 06

The second day of former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s Fijian Holdings trial has kicked off with FICAC senior counsel Michael Blanchflower questioning former FHL secretary Sitiveni Weleilakeba about a number of documents.

In the last hour, Blanchflower has presented an additional document which was a letter written by Qarase on November 20th 1991 on behalf of Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited to Weleilakeba who was the FHL secretary.

In the letter, Qarase said he was applying on behalf of Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited for 180,000 ordinary FHL shares and a cheque of $180,000 was enclosed with the letter.

Weleilakeba confirmed receiving the letter and said that it was an application for FHL shares and included the payment for the shares.

The letter was signed by Qarase.

He was a board director of FHL at the time.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The case relates to the allotment and issuance of the FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Vaniqi applies for a permanent stay on proceedings - July 06

Former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s legal counsel in the Fijian Holdings trial Samanunu Vaniqi has made an application for a permanent stay on the proceedings of the case.

Vaniqi said the application includes affidavits from Qarase and Nawalu Baravilala.

Vaniqi said the application is based on Article 14/3 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

She said this issue is focusing on Qarase’s human rights, not just his constitutional rights.

The matter will be discussed again on Monday as FICAC senior counsel Michael Blanchflower needs to go through the application and make a response.

He said that it should not be an ambush by surprise.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & Filipe Naikaso

Weleilakeba appears as FICAC witness in Qarase trial - July 06

Former managing director and secretary of Fijian Holdings Limited Sitiveni Weleilakeba will continue giving evidence in former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s Fijian Holdings trial this morning.

Weleilakeba took the witness stand yesterday afternoon and confirmed that the concept of FHL was imported from Malaysia and the person who did the research was Laisenia Qarase.

Weleilakeba confirmed that during his term as FHL secretary, he was only a minute taker or record keeper.

He also confirmed that Qarase was a board of director of FHL from 1989 to 2000.

Upon questioning by FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower, Weleilakeba confirmed that a director who has a vested interest in an entity that is discussed during a board meeting or a director who is a direct beneficiary from the discussions should declare their interest to the board.

He also said that he expects the declaration to be made if a director’s family member has a vested interest.

He also said that if a declaration is made, it is recorded in the minutes.

Weleilakeba also said that the process was that the chair would ask the director to then leave the meeting room.

He said that if a director abstained from voting, it would be recorded in the minutes however he did not come across any directors abstaining from voting.

Weleilakeba also said that a committee was set up in 1988 headed by the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara to prepare a nine point plan for FHL.

Ratu Mara was the interim prime minister at the time.

Weleilakeba said that Qarase was one of the committee members.

Weleilakeba will continue giving evidence at 9.30am today.

Former permanent secretary for Fijian Affairs Ratu Meli Bainimarama was the first FICAC witness in the trial.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Ratu Meli Bainimarama first state witness - July 05

Former permanent secretary for the Fijian Affairs Ministry and Fiji’s High Commissioner to Malaysia Ratu Meli Bainimarama was the first State witness in the Fijian Holdings trial of former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.

During cross examination by FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower, Ratu Meli said Qarase participated in the meetings of the Great Council of Chiefs as financial advisor when the proposal was made to open shareholding to Tikina Councils and ordinary Fijians.

He said Qarase would have been aware of the decision.

Ratu Meli added that dividends of Class B shares were less than Class A shares.

Defense council Tupou Draunidalo then cross-examined Ratu Meli who said that Class B shares in Fijian Holdings Limited were reserved for Provincial Councils.

He added that no such benefits like insurance and holidays were given to Qarase as financial advisor.

According to Ratu Meli, neither the chair of the Fijian Affairs Board, nor the line minister or the prime minister, controlled how the financial advisor to FAB carries out his duties.

Ratu Meli added that the government gave a $20 million loan to Fijian Holdings Limited through the Fijian Affairs Board.

As a result of this investment, FAB became a shareholder of FHL.

He said that FHL was the main government affirmative action policy at that time when it was introduced by the Alliance Government when the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was prime minister.

This was to benefit more Fijians from loan facility by government.

He said the financial advisor basically provided advice to the Fijian Affairs Board and the Great Council of Chiefs, attended meetings of the board and the GCC.

Ratu Meli said that he was not a director of Fijian Holdings Limited but was just a representative of the Fijian Affairs Ministry.

The case continues in the Suva High Court where former CEO of FHL Sitiveni Weleilakeba is giving evidence.

Story by: Ronal Deo

Qarase did not adhere to principles says FICAC - July 05

The four week Fijian Holdings trial of former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has kicked off with FICAC’s senior counsel Michael Blanchflower saying Qarase allowed himself to be influenced by private interests that would benefit his family and fellow villagers.

Qarase is charged with six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

It is alleged that Qarase applied, and then facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The case relates to the allotment and issuance of the FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Q-Ten Investments Limited.

While opening the case for the prosecution in a packed High Court room today, Blanchflower told the court that Q-Ten Investments is a company owned by Qarase’s wife and children, Mavana Investments is a company owned by some of Qarase’s family members and villagers where Qarase is from, while Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited is a company where Qarase was appointed as an advisor.

Blanchflower said that Fijian Holdings Limited was set up in 1984 to assist indigenous Fijians in investments and business and the early Class A shareholders were NLTB, the Fijian Affairs Board and Provincial Councils.

He said that $20 million was lent to FAB by the government in 1989 and FAB then lent the money to FHL for the creation of Class B shares.

Qarase was then appointed as a director of FHL.

It is alleged that Qarase made a presentation to the Great Council of Chiefs that more Class A shares should be available to tikinas and companies owned by indigenous Fijians which was approved.

Blanchflower said that their case will prove that between November 1991 and June 1992, Qarase on behalf of Q-Ten Investments, Mavana Investments and Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited applied for the FHL Class A shares, never declared his interest in those companies and participated in the decision making process.

The senior counsel for FICAC said that the three companies own 20 percent of FHL and by far are some of the largest shareholders - Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited is the second largest shareholder while Mavana and Q-Ten Investments are the third largest shareholders in FHL.

Blanchflower said from 1991 onwards, the three companies received tens of thousands of dollars in dividends as Class A shareholders get a higher level of dividend payout.

He said that the case will be proven through about 10 witnesses, an agreed bundle of documents and agreed facts.

These are facts agreed to by both the prosecution and defence.

Blanchflower said that this case is about established principles for public office holders and members of the public placing their trust on the person to carry out their duties for the benefit of the public at large.

He said FICAC’s case will prove that Qarase did not adhere to these principles.

Meanwhile, Qarase pleaded not guilty to all nine counts today.

Story by: Vijay Narayan

Qarase trial to begin today - July 05

The four week trial of former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase will start this morning.

High Court Judge Justice Priyantha Fernando stressed in court again yesterday that Qarase’s Fijian Holdings trial will go ahead as scheduled after Qarase’s lawyer Samanunu Vaniqi said she may file an application to stay the proceedings today.

Qarase will also be represented by Tupou Draunidalo.

Justice Fernando said he had already indicated in his earlier ruling that the trial date will not be vacated by any stay proceedings and the case will start today.

FICAC is represented by two Hong Kong based senior counsels, Micheal Blanchflower and Elizabeth Yang.

This is Qarase’s first case in relation to Fijian Holdings Limited where it is alleged that he facilitated and allowed the purchase of Class A FHL shares for certain companies when he was director of FHL, financial advisor of the Fijian Affairs Board and advisor to the Great Council of Chiefs.

The case relates to the allotment and issuance of the FHL shares to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and a family owned company named Q-Ten Investments Limited.

The case is expected to start at 9.45am.

Story by: Vijay Narayan & Ronal Deo


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