31 Oct 2006

Fiji agriculture ministry scam money used to buy votes, high court hears

9:05 am on 31 October 2006

The Suva High Court has been told that money from the 13-million US dollar Fiji agriculture ministry scam was used to buy votes in 2001 general election.

The Fiji Sun reports that this was part of the evidence given by the former head of the ministry, Peniasi Kunatuba, who is facing two counts of abuse of office.

Mr Kunatuba told the court he could not have initiated the so-called Farming Assistance Scheme on his own as mentioned in the charges and it was impossible for him to run an illegal scheme for more than 12 months using public money.

He said the government had approved the scheme because cabinet ministers were using it all the time.

Mr Kunatuba said the agriculture ministry office was like a madhouse in 2000 as thousands of people gathered there daily to seek assistance.

He said the agriculture minister in the post-coup interim regime, Mohammed Apisai Tora, had approved the scheme but the document bearing his signature went missing after investigations started.