3 Oct 2006

Fiji court told 60 people implicated in agriculture ministry scam

5:47 pm on 3 October 2006

The Suva High Court has been told that more than 60 people ranging from cabinet ministers to prominent business people were implicated the Fiji's 13-million US dollar agriculture ministry scam.

Radio Legend reports that this was disclosed by the leader of the police investigation team, Inspector Nasir Ali, during cross-examination by the defence lawyer, Tevita Fa.

Mr Fa is defending the former head of the agriculture ministry, Peniasi Kunatuba, who is facing two charges of abuse of office.

Inspector Ali said those implicated included the prime minister and the home affairs, while the minister for agriculture and other cabinet ministers of the time were also interviewed in relation to the scam.

He said the investigation also revealed that the fire which razed the Suncourt Hardware premises in July 2002 was arson which was linked to the scam to destroy critical evidence in the trial.

On questioning, Inspector Ali said his removal from the police investigation team came about when fingers were pointed at some very prominent people, including cabinet ministers and directors and staff of Suncourt Hardware and R C Manubhai.

Mr Fa told Justice Nazhat Shameem that the charges against his client imply that Kunatuba started the farming assistance scheme without the approval of the cabinet.

But Mr Fa said his client was only following instructions handed down by the then interim minister for agriculture, Apisai Tora.

The court was earlier told that Mr Tora's son was one of the beneficiaries of equipment handed out under the scam.

Mr Fa also noted that before the 2001 general election a large consignment of equipment was taken to Rotuma by the same cabinet ministers who are now denying any knowledge of the farming assistance scheme.