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Former Fiji Prime Minister Handed One-Year Jail Term For Interfering In Corruption Investigation

Fiji’s former Prime Minister has been sentenced to a year in prison for interfering in university corruption investigation.

Fiji’s former Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, a prominent figure in the Pacific Islands, has been sentenced to a year in prison for obstructing a police investigation into corruption.

The 70-year-old, who served as Fiji’s leader for over 15 years until 2022, was a notable advocate for climate change action on the international stage. Following the High Court’s ruling on Thursday, Bainimarama was taken into custody.

Last month, he was found guilty of perverting the course of justice in relation to a police inquiry into financial misconduct at the University of South Pacific. Prosecutors alleged that Bainimarama instructed his friend, the former Fijian Police Commissioner, to halt the investigation, which involved alleged irregularities in bonuses, promotions, and pay raises for university staff.

Despite pleading not guilty, Bainimarama and the police chief were found to have abused their authority to impede the university probe.

Initially, Bainimarama had avoided jail time when a lower court magistrate chose not to record his conviction. However, Fiji’s top prosecutors contested this decision, leading to an appeal.

The High Court overturned the lower court’s ruling and handed down prison sentences to both Bainimarama and the suspended police chief, Sitiveni Qiliho, who received a two-year term.

Outside the court, supporters of Bainimarama gathered, singing hymns, while politicians hailed the verdict as a testament to accountability. Unity Fiji party leader Savenaca Narube remarked that the case demonstrated that even high-ranking individuals would be held answerable for breaking the law. Narube said, “The court case and sentencing shows… that people who break the law, doesn’t matter who they are, they are brought to account”.

Observers have pointed out the timing of the legal actions against Bainimarama, noting his loss in the December 2022 election to current Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka. Last year, Bainimarama faced suspension from parliament for three years after criticizing the government in a speech. Despite these challenges, his political party FijiFirst has affirmed its support, stating that Bainimarama will remain its leader.

“Bainimarama will continue to be the leader of the FijiFirst party. Come 2026, we will deal with it,” party senior Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said according to local media reports.

As a former military commander, Bainimarama initially came to power in a bloodless coup in 2006 and later won democratic elections in 2014 and 2018.

Melissa Enoch

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