3 Aug 2012

Ousted Fiji PM Laisenia Qarase sentenced to year's jail

3:18 pm on 3 August 2012

Fiji's ousted prime minister Laisenia Qarase has been sentenced to one year in jail for his convictions for corruption-related offences dating back to the 1990s.

Qarase received 12 months for six charges of abuse of office and six months for three charges relating to discharge of duty as a public servant, to be served concurrently at Korovou Prison.

Annell Husband reports.

Qarase's lawyers had asked for a non-custodial sentence with an option for community work.

In passing sentence the High Court judge Priyantha Fernando took into account mitigating factors such as Qarase's previously clear record, character references and poor health.

But he said the gravity of the offending in the position of trust that Qarase held meant that an immediate prison term was warranted and the sentence could not be suspended.

Our corespondent in Fiji Ricardo Morris says Qarase was visibly emotional in the courtroom.

"And as he was led out amongst the throng of people, his grandchildren were standing there crying, crying out for him and his wife was also very distraught. He was immediately put into a vehicle and taken to hospital so even the crowd outside didn't get a chance to see him, there were about 300 or so people who were gathered outside the courtroom."

Ricardo Morris says Qarase is receiving a medical check up before his immediate detention at Korovou Prison.

He says the prison has been the subject of several High Court judgments and was condemned a few years ago but is the only suitable facility for Qarase's type of offending.

Qarase's lawyers are expected to appeal against the sentence next week.

The interim attorney general Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum declined to comment on the grounds that the matter is still before the courts, saying only that the sentencing speaks for itself.

But the Fiji fugitive and former senior military officer Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara told Radio Tarana the regime has been working to incarcerate Qarase, the leader of the SDL party.

This was planned in 2007 after the 2006 takeover in December. This proposal was put forward by Khaiyum that Qarase and Chaudhry be behind bars. So it's a deliberate attempt to stop them from contesting the election.

But a senior executive SDL party executive, Mataiasi Ragigia, says the party is not going to stand back because of what has happened and will continue the fight for democracy.

The party executives have totally agreed in principle that he will continue, that Laisenia Qarase will continue as the party leader come 2014 election. [Reporter: Does the party have concerns for his health while he's in prison?] Yes, we have concerns on that issue. But I think the authorities concerned should be taking care of that.

The Methodist Church's Reverend Tevita Nawadra told Radio Tarana that the church is very saddened by the sentencing and has been meeting with Qarase, who is a devout Christian.

Before he went to court or during the time when other evidences were sought, so people have been visiting him and saying prayers with him and all those.

In a statement before sentencing Qarase said that whatever the court decision he thanked God for his blessings and his friends and well-wishers for their support.