Sentencing Day for Former Fiji PM Bainimarama and Suspended Top Cop Qiliho

Former Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and suspended Commissioner of Police Sitiveni Qiliho will discover their fates this morning when Magistrate Seini Puamau hands down their sentences, following their convictions for Perverting the Course of Justice and Abuse of Office respectively.

Their lawyer, Devanesh Sharma, sought leniency, proposing non-custodial sentences, a submission the prosecution represented by acting DPP Laisani Tabuakuro opposed, arguing for immediate custodial sentences toward the higher end of the tariff range.

The two counsels presented their submissions in the sitting last Thursday, lasting a little over three hours, in a packed courtroom before Magistrate Seini Puamau. The court was adjourned twice, one lasting for about five minutes after the prosecution counsel disrupted the defense counsel’s submission to caution the court to stay within the bounds of the high court ruling and what it accepts to be facts of the case.

Defense Submission:
In his submission, Sharma argued that his clients do not deserve a custodial sentence. He called on Magistrate Puamau to look at the totality of the evidence presented in her court during the trial, and not confine her decision to the High Court Judgement, which Sharma told the court he did not accept.

He argued that the factor of repentance and remorse should not be considered because his clients pleaded not guilty to the charges, were cleared by the magistrate court before the high court overturned the ruling, resulting in the guilty verdict.

Sharma stated that there were no aggravating factors that could be attached to his clients.

He also noted the magistrate’s instructions in Monday’s sitting last week, to explore other alternative sentences outlined in sections 15 and 31 of the Sentencing and Penalties Act. The sections outline various sentencing options available to courts when dealing with offenders. It includes provisions for recording convictions with imprisonment terms, community work orders, fines, partly custodial, suspended sentence, discharge, and other alternatives, emphasizing imprisonment as a last resort and allows for sentences without recording a conviction under certain circumstances.

Among the cases he based his argument on were two recent cases – against the Chief Registrar Tomasi Bainivalu and prominent Suva lawyer Richard Naidu. In the case of the former, Bainivalu pleaded guilty to a driving-related charge, and his conviction was not recorded, he was only fined, ordered to adhere to certain conditions and discharged. For Naidu, who was facing charges of contempt scandalizing the court, he said the learned judge who presided over the case considered the impact of the conviction on the lawyer’s reputation and career, and decided against recording the conviction.

He said the same mercy could be extended to both Bainimarama and Qiliho.

He said his client, the former Prime Minister, has suffered enough and that his political career in the future has been disbanded and he is not able to contest the next two General Elections.

Sharma said that Bainimarama has also retired from politics.

For his second client, Sharma said Qiliho has also suffered enough and has been unemployed since January 2023.

Prosecution Case:
Tabuakuro cited superior court rulings that underlined that high public officials who abuse their power must be deterred, justifying a custodial sentence.

In this case, imposing a non-conviction, suspension of sentence, or substantial fine, she stated would be inappropriate – Bainimarama who was the Prime Minister of Fiji, Qiliho who was the Commissioner of Police.

She argued for immediate custodial sentences towards the high end of the tariff for both accused, citing previous cases where age, family circumstances, or medical conditions did not preclude custodial sentences to deter such acts.

Tabuakuro highlighted the need for uniform application of the law to all persons of authority and asserts that an immediate custodial sentence will serve as a deterrent and appropriately reflect the seriousness of the offending.

She said for the defense to argue that there was no victim was baseless, insisting that the public of Fiji or taxpayers whose payments go towards USP were victims. Tabuakuro said as such incidents or allegations of mismanagement of these funds should have been investigated, and Bainimarama and Qiliho who were in positions of influence had a duty to investigate the matter.

She also argued that medical grounds or age should not be considered as a factor to institute a lenient sentence – pointing out that the former Prime Minister, the late Laisenia Qarase, was 71 years old, with five children, sat on a number of boards, and whose wife suffered a stroke, was sentenced to prison in 2012. She said in comparison, Bainimarama and Qiliho were much younger.

Following a lengthy trial, during which the duo maintained their innocence, Magistrate Puamau on October 12, 2023, found Bainimarama not guilty of the charge of Attempt to Pervert the Course of Justice and also found the second accused, Sitiveni Tukaituraga Qiliho, not guilty of the charge of Abuse of Office.

The prosecution appealed against the acquittals. In a judgment delivered on March 14, 2024, the Acting Chief Justice Temo Salesi allowed the appeal in relation to both counts and made a finding of guilt and convicted Bainimarama and Qiliho of the respective charges against them.

The high court then remitted this matter back to the Magistrate Court on March 18, 2024, for the Magistrate to pronounce the 1st and 2nd Respondent guilty as charged and convictions entered against them.

Sentencing submissions by both parties were held last Thursday, leading up to D-Day when Magistrate Puamau decides on the sentencing of the two today.

Other Cases Pending:
Both Bainimarama and Qiliho have at least two other cases pending against them in court – one of which is related to the unlawful termination of two police officers.

The trial date might be set for early 2025 due to scheduling conflicts, with the next court date scheduled for May 2 for a Pre-Trial Conference.

The other case sees Bainimarama charged alongside former AG Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and former Minister for Health Dr. Neil Sharma who collectively have been charged with offenses including Abuse of Office, Breach of Trust, and Obstruction of Justice. Dr. Sharma is accused of manipulating tender processes for Hospital Engineering & Consultancy Ltd (Hospineer), while Bainimarama and Sayed-Khaiyum face charges related to granting waivers for tenders. Sayed-Khaiyum is also accused of obstructing a Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) investigation.

Related Articles:

Bainimarama and Qiliho Guilty – High Court Reverses Acquittal

Bainimarama And Qiliho Plead Not Guilty To Unlawful Termination Charges

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