Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Trumped Up Case Against Former Fij PM Concludes

Fiji Village News

 Defense and prosecution sum up in Qarase case

Fiji Elected PM Qarase
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 while Draunidalo said 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 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 6 counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

Stay with us for coverage on Qarase's trial.

Story by:
Vijay Narayan and Ronal Deo
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