26 Nov 2013

Fiji former senior military official found guilty of inciting mutiny

5:25 pm on 26 November 2013

A former top ranking military official in Fiji Pita Driti has been found guilty of inciting mutiny.

The High Court judge, Justice Paul Madigan, overturned a not-guilty decision by the three assessors on the case, which involved a plot to overthrow the Bainimarama government in 2010 and kill the Fiji regime leader's right hand man, Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

Our correspondent in Suva, Ricardo Morris, has been at the trial.

RICARDO MORRIS: Earlier than usual this morning, at 8:30, Justice Madigan began his summing up before the three assessors. The three assessors represent the public, and although their decisions are given great weight by judges, they're not binding on the judge who can overturn the verdict of the assessors. In his summing up, Justice Madigan gave an overview of the prosecution case in which the main prosecution witness is a senior army officer who is now working for the National Disaster Committee. But he claimed that in 2010, between August and October of that year, Driti had discussed with him plans to overthrow the government and remove the attorney general. There were said to have been five options open to disgruntled military officers at the time. Driti is claimed to have said that the attorney general was leading Fiji away from the path that the military had chosen in cleaning up corruption and getting rid of racism. So that's what was claimed in court as one of the reasons for this plot to have been hatched in 2010.

SALLY ROUND: Can you tell us a bit about Pita Driti and the significance of him being on trial?

RM: It is a significant case and Justice Madigan acknowledged that it was a case with political overtones because Pita Driti was at the time relevant to the charge, he was the Land Force Commander. And he would have been in charge of the great bulk of the Fiji military. Land Force is made up of the bulk of soldiers and it is considered a very important role, second only to the commander. That is why this case is quite significant, because Pita Driti was in the military council at the time because of his position as land force commander and he was also close to Bainimarama who was a commander and the prime minister. And he maintained throughout the trial that his loyalty was to the commander of the RFMF, but that the Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, had been leading Fiji in a different direction.

SR: What has been the interest in Fiji in this trial?

RM: Well, the interest has been quite high because this is the first time that political discussion of this nature has been carried out publicly. Because it was in open court with reporters present and the details of what led to this case were able to be aired in public. Interesting, during the case, there were allegations about the Attorney General, that Driti and several other senior officers were unhappy with some of his social activities and some of his financial dealings and his remuneration, but while that was entered in court no other details about what exactly was the evidence supposedly collected by Driti and other military intelligence officers against the AG was so there was no mention of the specifics of the allegations, just that they were unhappy with some of his dealings.

Driti has been remanded in custody and faces a possible 15 years in prison. A hearing for sentencing takes place early next month.