Legal Team Readies ‘No Case to Answer’ Defense for Ex-Fiji PM and Suspended COMPOL

The legal counsel for former Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and suspended Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho, Devanesh Sharma, is preparing to file a “no case to answer” submission on his clients’ behalf.

Sharma informed the court that he intends to provide a written submission to both the prosecution and the court tomorrow. This submission will outline their reasoning for the “no case to answer” argument, allowing both the prosecution and the court sufficient time to prepare before the court session set for 12 midday on Wednesday, August 9.

Sharma said there were certain issues and elements that did not meet the threshold which will be raised in their NCTA submission.

He made the remarks after concluding his questioning of Director Narcotics Serupepeli Neiko who appeared today as the ninth and final witness in the state’s case. Neiko was serving as the acting Director CID during the period when it is alleged that Bainimarama and Qiliho gave instructions to halt the investigation into the USP case.

During the cross-examination, Sharma pointed out that according to police standing orders, decisions related to investigation files should be recorded or documented through “minutes.” Neiko agreed, confirming that there was no record on July 15 when Qiliho spoke to both Neiko and investigating officer Reshmi Dass. Neiko initially stated that verbal instructions from Qiliho were sufficient for officers to act on, but he later acknowledged the absence of a formal record and the use of the term “file away,” which is police terminology to indicate closing a case.

Sharma argued that Qiliho did indeed communicate with Neiko regarding instructions to halt the investigation. Qiliho’s directive he contended was out of concern to prevent duplication of efforts and resources, considering that the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) had also conducted an investigation into the matter, and a report by BDO commissioned by the USP Council seemed satisfied with its findings. Sharma presented a copy of the minutes from the August 2019 council meeting, which indicated resolutions made, including a recommendation to implement BDO’s suggestions. Neiko was questioned about whether there was any indication that USP was dissatisfied with FICAC’s work and wanted the police to pursue the case, to which Neiko agreed there was none. However, Neiko contended that when Qiliho issued the directive, he did not request a report on the matter.

Sharma also inquired about events in September 2020 when Acting Commissioner of Police Rusiate Tudravu and Chief Inspector Intelligence and Investigation Biu Matavou, both state witnesses, discussed an update on the case for the former’s briefing to a National Security Council meeting that month. Sharma asserted that the update suggested ongoing investigations.

The court heard that the only official record indicating the case’s closure was dated January 6, 2022 – none was documented for July 15, 2020, when Qiliho spoke with Neiko and Reshmi Dass, nor September 2020 when former acting COMPOL Rusiate Tudravu reportedly mentioned a directive from Bainimarama to “Tuks (Qiliho) to stay away from the investigation” during a National Security Council meeting.

During the trial that began on August 2, the court was told that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions does not have the authority to issue directives to the police regarding ongoing investigations, but rather has the role of providing recommendations. This clarification was relayed to CID officer Suliasi Dulaki during his testimony in court last week. Dulaki had interviewed Qiliho when he was taken in for questioning at the CID office. During the court proceedings that day, Sharma prompted Dulaki to read aloud the specific allegation that Qiliho had been questioned by the CID. While reading the allegation, Dulaki mentioned that Qiliho had been questioned for alleged abuse of office, and it was stated that Qiliho had ordered the investigation to be stopped despite clear directive from DPP. This caught the attention of Magistrate Seini Puamau, who is presiding over the trial. Puamau promptly intervened, saying that the allegation was inaccurate. She clarified to the court that the DPP does not possess the authority to issue direct orders to the Fiji Police Force; their role is limited to offering recommendations.

The same clarification was provided to Neiko today by DPP David Toganivalu.

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 Pervert the Course of Justice. It is alleged that between July and September 2020 in Suva, he instructed Qiliho to refrain from involvement in the ongoing investigations concerning USP. Qiliho, who is charged with abuse of office, is accused of directing the Director of the Criminal Investigations Department at the time, Neiko, and another officer to terminate the investigation.

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