Fiji official guilty of plot
One of Fiji's senior military heads has been found guilty of plotting to overthrow strongman Voreqe Bainimarama and planning to kill one of his main supporters.
In a sensational turn, High Court judge Paul Madigan overturned the unanimous findings of a three person assessor or jury panel who earlier this morning found Brigadier General Pita Driti not guilty of the plot.
The evidence heard last week suggests several of Fiji's colonels were also plotting to overthrow Bainimarama in 2010. But Madigan's unusual over-ruling of an assessor panel under-scores the heavy international legal criticism laid against Fiji's judiciary that it is not independent of the military regime.
Driti, 55, was one of the military troika that installed Bainimarama in a democracy ending 2006 coup, but the court heard in his trial last week that the regime had gone in the wrong direction.
He was said to have claimed that the military installed attorney general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum was misleading Bainimarama and that he would have to be killed by Christmas 2010.
State controlled Fiji Broadcasting said it took Madigan about one and a half hours to deliver his decision finding Driti guilty of inciting mutiny and another charge of committing a seditious act.
Driti has been remanded in custody and will be sentenced on December 10.
Evidence heard before Madigan last week claimed Driti plotted with two other top soldiers, Lt Colonels Tevita Mara and Mohammed Aziz, in 2010 to overthrow Bainimarama and to kill his attorney general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum by Christmas of that year.
Mara, who is the son of the late founding president and prime minister Kamisese Mara, has fled Fiji and lives in exile in Tonga. Aziz, the top ranked Indian and Muslim in the Fiji military, has also left the country but it is unclear whether he will return.
Driti pleaded not guilty to a charge of uttering seditious words which included saying that Sayed-Khaiyum should be removed and that Bainimarama has "lost the plot" and should be removed from leadership.
He is also charged with attempting to seduce a soldier from his duty by getting him to committee a mutinous act of overthrowing Bainimarama.
The charges have not been laid under normal law but under military decree. Under these decrees sedition carries a seven year jail term and mutiny 15 years.
A Hong Kong lawyer, Audrey Campbell-Moffat, who is acting as prosecutor, told the court Driti had made a statement in 2010 during the plotting that given his rank, he expected to be prime minister in any new regime.
Campbell-Moffat said Driti was in a very high position, was in command of 80 per cent of the Fiji Military Forces.
Fijivillage quoted Driti's lawyer Filimoni Vosarogo saying his client denied any plot to remove Bainimarama while he was in Sudan in October 2010 inspecting Fiji peacekeeping troops.
Fiji Broadcasting, whose CEO is Sayed-Khaiyum brother Riyaz, reported that Driti does not deny that there was a plan to overthrow the regime, rather chose to tell the truth in a logical and sensible way of the contents of the plan.
He said that Driti remained loyal to the Commander and resigned from his position.
- © Fairfax NZ News