17 May 2011

Fiji seeks extradition of former military officer

7:39 pm on 17 May 2011

Fiji's Solicitor-General denies claims a former senior military officer accused of sedition would not get a fair trial if he returned to his country.

Fiji has sent documents to Tonga's Prime Minister Lord Tu'ivakano seeking the extradition of Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara.

Ratu Tevita, a colonel, was charged with sedition after criticising Commodore Frank Bainimarama's military regime and then picked up by the Tongan navy while on bail.

Ratu Tevita says he got into trouble while on a fishing trip and the navy helped him out.

He believes he would not get a fair hearing in Fiji because he says Commodore Bainimarama interferes with the judiciary.

"There are no longer fair trials in Fiji. The court passes the verdicts and the sentences that the regime wants," he says.

However, Solicitor-General Christopher Pryde told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Tuesday that Ratu Tevita will be cleared if he is innocent and is only a fugitive now because he skipped bail.

Mr Pryde will not comment on the colonel's claim that he only criticised his government in a private conversation.

Meanwhile, a police investigation is continuing in Fiji into whether anyone helped Ratu Tevita.

Fiji's Land Force Commander, Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga, says he is sure no army or navy personnel helped him escape and that any assistance would have come from civilians.

Officer could stay in Tonga if extradition fails

A minister in the Tongan government says Fiji will have to go through the normal court process and establish its case to win any extradition.

The Minister of Public Enterprises and Revenue, Clive Edwards, says Fiji will have to show there is a case to answer and that Ratu Tevita would receive fair treatment.

Mr Edwards says if the attempt to have him extradited fails, there is no reason why Ratu Tevita can't stay in Tonga if he wants to.

Auckland University law professor Bill Hodge says that because sedition is a political crime, a good lawyer would argue that it is not a strong enough reason to extradite Ratu Tevita back to Fiji.