FICAC Uncovers Allowance Abuse at USP During Trial of Former Fiji PM and Suspended ComPol

Fiji’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) uncovered evidence of abuse and mismanagement of allowances at the University of the South Pacific (USP), and was in the midst of carrying out the next phase of its investigations when it was halted, a prosecution witness told the court during the trial of former Fiji PM Voreqe Bainimarama and suspended Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho.

On the second day of the trial yesterday, FICAC Manager of Investigation Kuliniasi Saumi, testified before Magistrate Seini Puamau. Saumi, who was the Chief Investigator when the complaint was lodged by USP’s Manager of Assurance and Compliance, Dulari Traill, in 2019, said that their investigation primarily targeted the abuse and mismanagement of allowances at USP. The investigation revealed “substantial” allowances that implicated individuals in positions of higher authority within the university.

During the formal investigations that started on April 24, the investigators made multiple visits to the USP to gather information. In the initial phase, on April 25, a search warrant was executed at various offices within the university, including the vice chancellor’s office, financial office, HR department, and Traill’s office, to seize relevant materials. In the subsequent phase, which lasted for a week, the investigators conducted interviews with individuals based on the obtained documents and information. Additionally, they collected further information and facts. Their analysis of this information revealed incriminating facts. Kuliniasi Saumi and his team then presented these findings, along with their recommendations for the way forward, to the acting FICAC commissioner at that time.

The investigation team recommended conducting caution interviews with individuals implicated in the findings, allowing them to formally respond to the complaints and evidence. However, a few days into the process of identifying and finalising the interviewees, the Manager of Investigation at that time, Mr. Tagicaki, instructed them to terminate the investigation. The reasons for this decision were communicated to the team at a later time.

During the cross-examination by Defense counsel Devanesh Sharma, Saumi confirmed that he inquired about the reasons for the investigation being terminated. He was informed that the university council had engaged BDO to conduct an independent investigation. A senior official from the university also requested the return of the seized documents, which also concluded FICAC’s involvement in the matter.

The trial continues into its third day. The charges against Bainimarama and Qiliho pertain to allegations of obstructing police investigations into a complaint filed by USP regarding the activities of former USP staff members. The complaint was initially lodged with the police in 2019.

Bainimarama specifically faces a charge of Attempting to Perver the Course of Justice. It is alleged that between July and September 2020 in Suva, he instructed the suspended Commissioner of Police, Sitiveni Qiliho, to refrain from involvement in the ongoing investigations concerning USP. On the other hand, Qiliho, who is charged with abuse of office, is accused of directing the Director of the Criminal Investigations Department at the time, Serupepeli Neiko, and another officer to terminate the investigation.

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