27 Sep 2006

Fiji agriculture scam money used to buy votes in 2001

7:27 am on 27 September 2006

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

This was part of the statement which the former head of the ministry, Peniasi Kunatuba, gave to police which was read in court.

The investigating officer, Inspector Nasir Ali, said Kunatuba told him that several ministers in the 2001 interim administration used the farming assistance scheme as a political agenda and he was pressured to obey instructions on how the money was used.

Kunatuba named the then minister of agriculture, Apisai Tora; the fisheries minister, Ilaitia Tuisese, the former assistant minister Marieta Rigamoto; the education minister Ro Teimumu Kepa and the former fisheries minister, Konisi Yabaki.

Inspector Ali said Kunatuba told him he did not fear using the scheme because the prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, was also actively involved in it and was in the ministerial delegation which traveled to Rotuma to distribute farming assistance equipment.

Kunatuba told police that political pressure was major factor that forced him to breach financial regulations.

Kunatuba has been charged with two counts of abuse of office in a High Court trial in which cabinet ministers, the Speaker of parliament and public servants have been summoned to testify.