5 Mar 2010

Eight jailed over plot to kill Fiji leader

8:38 pm on 5 March 2010

Eight men found guilty of conspiring to assassinate Fiji's interim prime minister Frank Bainimarama have been sentenced to jail terms.

Earlier this week five assessors were unanimous in finding that the group plotted to assassinate Commodore Bainimarama in 2007.

Justice Paul Madigan sentenced the men in the High Court in Suva on Friday.

The highest sentence of seven years' imprisonment was given to Naitasiri high chief Ratu Inoke Takiveikata and former Pacific Connex manager Sivaniolo Naulago.

Former head of the Fiji Intelligence Service Metuisela Mua was sentenced to three years and six months in prison.

Five former Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit soldiers were also jailed.

Barbados Mills was imprisoned for six years and six months and Feoko Gadekibua was given a five-year, six-month sentence. Kaminieli Vosavere was jailed for four years, while Eparama Waqatairewa and Pauliasi Namulo were sentenced to three years.

Suva barrister Iqbal Khan, who defended six of the accused, says his clients never participated in any illegal meetings and the case should never have gone to court.

Group innocent, says NZ businessman

The men were arrested in 2007 and also included New Zealander Ballu Khan, who was acquitted of conspiracy to murder in 2008.

During the group's trial, the judge said Mr Khan was believed to be the mastermind behind the conspiracy.

But Mr Khan, told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Friday that the group are innocent.

"The fact that they've been sentenced is tragic for a crime they never committed. We know this crime was committed by the military. The criminality belongs to the military, not to these people.

"None of them should be going to jail; they should never have been tried in the first place. It is another sad day in the chapter of Fiji's recent history."

The Auckland businessman expects charges to be laid in relation to the matter but says he is not afraid, because he is innocent.

Mr Khan says he is a citizen of New Zealand which upholds the law and Fiji officials are welcome to come to New Zealand to challenge him.