28 Jun 2004

Deposed Fiji prime minister first witness in Seniloli trial

6:16 pm on 28 June 2004

The Fiji prime minister deposed in the May 2000 coup, Mahendra Chaudhry, has become the first witness for the prosecution in the trial of the vice president, Ratu Jope Seniloli, on serious coup-related charges.

Radio Legend reports that in response to questions, Mr Chaudhry said he saw armed and masked men storm the parliament chamber on the morning of May 19th, 2000.

He said Speight and his gunmen ordered Indian MPs to form a single file and march to the parliament conference room while indigenous Fijian MPs were told to stay.

In response to questions from the lead prosecutor Mark Tedeschi, QC, of New South Wales, Mr Chaudhry said from the conference room he could see a number of people talking to Speight.

These included Seniloli, the current deputy Speaker of parliament Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure, the current sports minister Isireli Leweniqila and Peceli Rinakama but he wasn't sure about the others.

Earlier, Mr Tedeschi had told the High Court that Seniloli was told of the coup a day before it happened.

Mr Tedeschi said according to records in a police interview with Seniloli, Speight called him on the night of May the 18th, 2000, and informed him of his intention to overthrow the government the next day.

Mr Tedeschi said Speight also called Seniloli the next day and asked him to come to parliament and provide leadership.

Seniloli has been charged with taking an illegal oath to commit a capital offence and another of engaging in a seditious enterprise for purporting to become Speight's usurper president while the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was still in office.

Vakalabure, Leweniqila, Rinakama, Colonel Viliame Volavola and nationalist Viliame Savu face the same charges for being sworn in as ministers in Speight's failed administration.