12 Oct 2006

Fiji police give conflicting evidence in court about ministers in scam

6:45 am on 12 October 2006

Two Fiji police officers have given conflicting evidence in the Suva High Court about the alleged involvement of cabinet ministers in the 13-million US dollar agriculture ministry scam.

Inspector Nasir Ali, who headed the original police investigation team, had told the court that the education minister, Ro Teimumu Kepa; former tourism minister Konisi Yabaki and former works minister Joketani Cokanasiga were among suspects based on evidence.

Inspector Ali had said he was removed from the investigation team two years ago to protect these and other ministers as well as influential businessmen.

The officer who replaced him, Inspector Raj Kumar, has now told Justice Nazhat Shameem that Ro Teimumu Kepa and other ministers were never suspects in the scam.

The news website, Fijilive, quotes Inspector Kumar as telling the court there was no evidence stemming from his investigation pointing to the involvement of ministers in the scam.

Defence lawyer Tevita Fa produced letters written by certain ministers saying the farming assistance scheme was authorised by the post-coup interim administration.

But Inspector Kumar said the letters were the personal opinions of ministers and he saw no evidence that pointed to government authorization.

On trial is the former head of the agriculture ministry, Peniasi Kunatuba, who is facing two charges of abuse of office in relation to the scam.