Fiji’s ex-leader, Frank Bainimarama, sentenced to prison for interfering in police investigation

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Former Fijian leader Frank Bainimarama found himself in hot water when he was sentenced to a year behind bars for meddling in a criminal investigation during his time as prime minister. The Acting Chief Justice of Fiji’s High Court, Salesi Temo, handed down the sentence in the capital city of Suva. Bainimarama, aged 70, was convicted of trying to interfere with the course of justice, while the suspended Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho received a two-year prison term for abusing his office.

Bainimarama had a long stint in power, ruling Fiji for 16 years, first as a military ruler after a coup in 2006, and then as an elected prime minister in 2014 and 2018. He was succeeded by Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka after the 2022 election, who himself had taken power in a coup back in 1987.

The incident that led to Bainimarama’s conviction occurred in 2019 when he halted a police inquiry into alleged financial irregularities at the University of the South Pacific, which is jointly owned by 12 Pacific Island nations. The university’s administration had raised concerns about financial mismanagement stretching back a decade.

Prosecutors claimed that Bainimarama and Qiliho put an end to the ongoing police investigation into former university staff members. They argued that the police were still probing the matter and could bring further charges.

Initially, a lower court had cleared Bainimarama and Qiliho of the charges in October, but prosecutors appealed the decision. The High Court overturned the verdict and found them guilty.

Bainimarama remained stoic as his sentence was announced, but his wife Mary Bainimarama broke down in tears in court. Despite his legal team’s intention to appeal, Temo denied their request for bail pending the appeal hearing.

Bainimarama was taken away in handcuffs by the police to a prison outside Suva.

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