19 Feb 2003

Fiji companies reject coup allegations

11:42 am on 19 February 2003

Fiji companies and public officers named in the Suva High Court for their role in financing or colluding with the May 2000 coup are denying allegations against them.

Salesi Tuifagalele, a defence witness in the treason trial of Josefa Nata and Timoci Silatolu, told the court that ethnic Indian companies, C J Patel and Punja's had financed the coup.

Tuifagalele is a former soldier of the army's Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit which carried out the coup and the Suva mutiny six months later.

He has been given immunity from prosecution in return for information.

Tuifagalele also said George Speight had told them not to worry if the coup wasn't a success because he had already discussed the issue with the police commissioner, Colonel Isikia Savua, and the commissioner of prisons, Aisea Taoka.

The court was told that the ANZ and Westpac banks in the capital were to be blown up with bombs during the 2000 Fiji coup.

Tuifagalele told the court that the coup was planned for April the 28th, three weeks earlier than it took place, to coincide with a protest march organised by the SVT party which had lost the election the previous year.

The then prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, was to be kidnapped and taken to ameeting of the Great Council of Chiefs which was in progress that day.

Tuifagalele said he and some others went to fellow conspirator Iliesa Duvuloco's Tailevu farm to pick up weapons and explosives but no one was there and the coup did not take place.

A director of C J Patel, Ashok Desai, has denied the claim made in court, saying it was an absolute lie.

He says they are a reputable company which does not support such actions.

Punja and Sons has issued a statement saying they did not finance or support anyone associated with the coup.

Punja's says they had no dealings with George Speight at any time and were as much shocked by the coup as the rest of the country.

The commissioner of prisons, Aisea Taoka, says Tuifagalele's claims are absolutely false.

The former commissioner of police, Colonel Isikia Savua, is on his way to New York to become Fiji's ambassador to the UN and could not be reached for comment.

But the Labour Party says Tuifagalele's statement in court about Indian companies financing the coup only confirm what they knew all along.

A Labour Party statement says the Chaudhry government had been clamping down on alleged dodgy dealings by these companies.