SUVA (FijiVillage / Pacific Media Watch): Former Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has been sentenced to one year imprisonment and is now locked up in the Korovou Correctional Centre.
He was transported in a police vehicle to prison soon after midday on Friday.
In a packed court room, presiding judge Justice Priyantha Fernando delivered the sentence in the Fijian Holdings Limited trial.
With Qarase in the dock, Justice Fernando said that the facts of the case had been established that Qarase as adviser of the Fijian Affairs Board, adviser of the Great Council of Chiefs and director of FHL applied for Class A FHL shares and then facilitated their issue and allotment to Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited, Q-Ten Investments Limited and Mavana Investments Limited.
Justice Fernando told Qarase that he failed to disclose his interest in the three companies to FHL, FAB and GCC.
The companies highlighted in the charges are Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited in which Qarase was the company’s financial adviser (they had 400,000 Class A FHL shares), Mavana Investments Limited where Qarase and his wife, Leba had shares (Mavana owned 200,000 FHL shares) and Q-Ten Investments which is a Qarase family owned company (Q-Ten had 200,000 FHL shares).
Justice Fernando said this was done in priority to other eligible provincial and tikina councils, FAB and the indigenous Fijians.
For the six counts of abuse of office, the maximum sentence is three years imprisonment.
Justice Fernando highlighted cases of Ben Naiveli, former Permanent Secretary for Agriculture, Peniasi Kunatuba, former FNPF CEO Olota Rokovunisei and former Post Fiji chairman, Mahendra Patel, and Peni Mau among others where prison sentences were handed down.
Justice Fernando said Qarase held a very high office in the public sector, as he was a financial adviser, and the government and the public vested their trust and confidence in him.
He said Qarase had a duty to safeguard the interests of the indigenous Fijian people but he deprived eligible indigenous Fijians of their entitlements, applied for shares for companies in which he had a private interest and continued to receive dividends from these shares.
Justice Fernando said Qarase had breached the trust of the people and his actions were not only illegal but against moral values.
The judge said he considered all the things said about Qarase in mitigation, that he was 71 years old, had five children and 15 grandchildren, his wife had health issues, he was a first offender, the offence was committed 20 years ago, his diabetic condition was worsening and other health conditions.
Justice Fernando started the sentence at 18 months imprisonment for the six counts of abuse of office. He added 12 months for the aggravating factors and deducted 18 months for the mitigating factors.
The sentence then stood at 12 months imprisonment.
Justice Fernando then handed a six-month prison sentence for the three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.
He ruled that that sentences be served concurrently.
He said he considered whether to hand down a suspended sentence.
However, Justice Fernando said issues he had to consider was the gravity of the offence, pre-meditation and planning and gross breach of public trust.
The judge also took into account the absence of remorse or repentance by Qarase.
Qarase has been given 30 days to appeal the prison sentence.
His lawyer, Tupou Draunidalo confirmed that she would appeal the sentence on Monday.
Following the sentencing, Qarase hugged his lawyers and his wife, Leba.
He was then escorted by police officers to the back of the courthouse, got into a police vehicle and taken to prison.
Qarase was the elected prime minister deposed in the 2006 military coup.
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