Investigations since the 2000 Fijian coup d'état

Investigations since the 2000 Fijian coup d'état

A number of separate, but overlapping, investigations have been conducted by the police into various aspects of the 2000 coup. Some of these investigations are ongoing. These investigations include the organization and financing of the coup, and the identity of the perpetrators. Some have alleged that George Speight was only a front-man for a shadowy group of politicians and businessmen; former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka is reported to be one of those under investigation. Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes revealed on 4 January 2006 that seven major investigations were currently in progress. In addition, a number of other investigations have either taken place or are being considered.

The seven major investigations

Commissioner Hughes announced on 5 December 2005 that while some police files contained insufficient evidence, being based to a large extent on hearsay, other files did contain incriminating evidence sufficient to lay charges. He revealed on 4 January 2006 that 21 officers were assigned, four of them full-time, to the seven major investigations, and that allegations made by Maciu Navakasuasua, a coup-convict, and Josaia Waqabaca, a self-declared coup-plotter, had led to three files being reopened. All seven cases would be referred to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) by the end of the month, he said.

1. The removal of Ratu Mara

"See main article: Removal of Ratu Mara, 2000."

The first investigation involves the resignation of the then-President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, on 29 May 2000 and the abrogation of the Constitution by the Interim Military Government, 2000 of Commodore Frank Bainimarama which took over. On May 21, 2003, the Police Investigations Department revealed that they had opened an investigation into whether Ratu Mara's resignation had been forced. Police declared at the time that they were facing "many challenges" in their investigation, finding many officers uncooperative - a stance reiterated by police several times, most recently by Hughes on 5 January 2005.

Hughes said that this case was legally complex, and that it was compounded by the non-cooperation of key individuals. A meeting is expected to be held between the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to consider certain legal questions that may have a bearing on this case.

2. The alleged financing of the coup

The second investigation concerns the local and foreign businesses and individuals alleged to have financed the coup. Former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka said that he did not believe anybody had financed the coup, and that the police were looking for "a needle in a hay stack." He was supported by Transport Minister Simione Kaitani, who said that the 10,000 people who entered the parliamentary complex during the crisis had contributed to the coup effort out of their own accord.

Police Commissioner Hughes, however, announced on 1 September 2005 that the police had concluded that the 2000 coup had been financed by people in the background. In January 2006, he said that 7 individuals and 6 companies and organisation had been implicated; all outstanding files had been completed, and the files on two individuals had already been sent to the DPP. The files contained bank records and individual statements, he revealed.

Hughes was quoted in the Fiji Times on 4 February 2006 as saying that this investigation was particularly complex with many witnesses unwilling to divulge information. Whether charges could be laid in such circumstances was problematic, he said; the decision would be up the DPP.

Hughes told Radio New Zealand on 16 March that investigations indicated that finance for the coup had been provided from abroad, though details were still sketchy. The gathering of data was compounded by the facts that all financial transactions appeared to have been in cash rather than cheques, he said.

3. The Chaudhry kidnap and assassination plot

The third investigation concerns allegations made in a number police statements, as well as interviews with the Fiji Sun, beginning in September 2005. On 21 September, Navakasuasua, who spent six months in Nukulau Prison for coup-related convictions, went public with allegations that financial backers of the coup had tried to hire him to blow up Nadi airport while the then-Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry was passing through.

Police have completed the investigation into Navakasuasua's alleged plot to kidnap Prime Minister Chaudhry on 28 April 2000, during a major public demonstration in Suva organized by the opposition Fijian Political Party (SVT). This file, concerning four people who allegedly planned the intended kidnapping and assassination, had been forwarded to the DPP, Hughes said.

The alleged plot to blow up Nadi Airport, as well as the Wailekutu FEA Transformer and three business was still being investigated, Hughes said. Three suspects had already been convicted, two of them in relation to the Wailekutu FEA Transformer, he said, and six remained to be interviewed, four of them concerning the transformer.

Hughes said that investigations were also in progress on a new claim that there were plans to execute six members of the Chaudhry government during the coup crisis. Six of the suspects have already been convicted of other treason-related charges.

The Commissioner revealed that 8 of the 14 people alleged to have been involved in the plot and execution of the coup had been dealt with already, and two had been granted immunity from prosecution.

Hughes revealed on 31 January 2006 that four suspects had been interviewed concerning the alleged Nadi Airport plot, and that the police were almost ready to forward a set of files to the office of the [Director of Public Prosecutions.

Two suspects remained to be interviewed, the Fiji Times said on 4 February 2006, quoting Hughes.

4. Investigations into the supporters of George Speight

The fourth investigation concerns Navakasuasua's claim that George Speight, who publicly presented himself as the instigator of the coup, was in fact an agent who had been hired at the last minute and had gone on to usurp the leadership. The investigation into this was complete, Hughes said, and had been passed to the DPP.

5. The revelations of Lieutenant Colonel Viliame Seruvakula

The fifth investigation concerns claims made by Lieutenant Colonel Viliame Seruvakula, who accused former Prime Minister Rabuka of involvement in the mutiny that had taken place at Suva's Queen Elizabeth Barracks on 2 November. Rabuka had allegedly tried to take civilians into the barracks for use as human shields.

Seruvakula also alleged that he had been offered almost US$260,000 to support the coup but after a face to face questioning from Speight whilst on a visit to Nukulau island he blamed the media for the rumours. He left for New Zealand in 2001 after reporting to the police the names of several present and former Military officers including Bainimarama, whom he claimed to have had prior knowledge of the coup.

Hughes revealed that three files had been forwarded to the DPP; one remained with the DPP, but two had been returned to the police for further investigation.

Radio Legend reported on 26 January 2006 that "a prominent politician", whom it did not name, was expected to be charged soon for him alleged involvement in the planning of the mutiny. This politician had allegedly approached Seruvakula and tried to influence him to support the plot, which was aimed at assassinating Commodore Bainimarama. Investigators were reported to have confirmed that the politician's file had been forwarded to the DPP.

Fiji Live reported on 23 February 2006 that Hughes was to meet the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss the investigations into Rabuka's alleged involvement in the coup and mutiny. The file was now with the office of the DPP, according to police spokeswoman Sylvia Low.

6. Investigations into civil servants who allegedly took part in the coup

The sixth investigation was into a number of civil servants who had allegedly assisted the planning or the execution of the coup. Investigations into some civil servants had been completed, Hughes revealed, and would be forwarded to the DPP by the end of January.

On 4 February 2006, the Fiji Times quoted Hughes as saying they were awaiting the return from the DPP office of the file related to a former senior civil servant who was alleged to have been involved in the coup plot. Two major companies were involved with the civil servant, Hughes said. A total of four files relating to civil servants had been forwarded to the office of the DPP; two remained with the office, but one had been returned to the police owing to lack of evidence.

7. The Seaqaqa farm arson

The seventh investigation concerns the burning of the Matailakeba Cane Farm in Seaqaqa, on July 29 2000, a property owned by Ratu Mara. Speaking under Parliamentary Privilege, Senator Adi Koila Nailatikau (Mara's daughter) accused Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, the "Tui Cakau" (Paramount Chief of Tovata), leader of the Conservative Alliance (CAMV) and a Cabinet Minister (who has since served a prison sentence for other coup-related offences) of having ordered the arson.

The arson attack had destroyed three farmhouses and a vehicle belonging to Ratu Mara. Hughes revealed that evidence had been gathered against a Senator, eight rebel soldiers, and a civilian, and that the file would be submitted to the DPP by the end of the month.

The Fiji Village news service reported on 24 January 2006 that police spokesman Josaia Rasiga, Director of the Criminal Investigations Department, had confirmed that files had been sent to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to determine charges against a number of "prominent people," whom "Fiji Village" did not name. One of these was reported to be "a prominent politician from the North."

Other investigations

In addition to the seven major investigations in progress at the beginning of 2006, a number of other investigations have either been completed or are being or have been considered.

Alleged plot to kidnap Commander

The Fiji Live news service reported on 26 January 2006 that charges were pending against a politician and two former senior officers in the Fijian Military, in connection with an alleged plot to kidnap Commodore Bainimarama during the 2000 coup crisis. It did not name the alleged culprits.

Members of the 3 FIR Unit, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Viliame Seruvakula allegedly foiled a plot by rebel soldiers, who supported the armed takeover of Parliament by George Speight, to kidnap Bainimarama at Nadi International Airport on his return from Poland soon after the seizure of the parliamentary complex.

Military spokesman Captain Neumi Leweni said that Lieutenant Colonel Jim Koroi had conducted an investigation with the police into the plot. The investigation was nearing completion, and charges would soon be laid, he indicated.However,this story was later discovered to be fabricated by the military to gain the support of the media.

Anonymous threats against government officials

On 6 June, Prime Minister Qarase, his chief executive Joji Kotobalavu, Attorney-General Qoriniasi Bale and Home Affairs chief executive Lesi Korovavala claimed to have received anonymous threats by telephone. A government source the next day claimed that military officers were implicated in the threats, as a military vehicle had been seen in the vicinity of Bale's home at the time, and that men believed to be soldiers had come to his premises. This allegation which drew a strong reaction from Captain Leweni. "Why do they think it's us? We don't see any reason why we should stoop that low," Leweni declared. Police responded the next day by increasing security arrangements for the four officials, and by launching an investigation into the threats. Captain Leweni promised that the military would not interfere with the investigation in any way. On 23 June, Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes said that the police had yet to interview Qarase or Bale, and were still waiting to study records from Telecom Fiji and Vodaphone Fiji. He refused to comment on whether or not they had identified the vehicle seen near Bale's home.

Kevueli Bulamainaivalu, the Assistant Police Commissioner for Crime, publicly questioned on 27 October why the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was taking so long to charge the person, believed to be a senior civil servant, who was identified as having made the threatening calls.

Home Affairs Minister Vosanibola also criticized the DPP for the delay on 26 January 2006, saying that it raised questions about the integrity of the DPP.

Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes said on 31 January that the investigation was complete, and that the evidence had been forwarded to the office of the [Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). It would be up to the DPP, Joe Naigulevu, to make a final decision to charge the individual implicated.

The DPP announced on 3 February that the case would be dropped for lack of evidence. Home Affairs Minister Vosanibola said he was very disappointed by the decision.

Alleged plot against Ratu Iloilo

* "See main article: Alleged plot against Ratu Iloilo, 2000."

Police spokeswoman Sylvia Low announced on 25 August that they were considering opening an investigation into allegations made the previous day by the Military Commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, that Senator Apisai Tora and a number of others had approached him in the Fijian Holdings boardroom during the 2000 crisis and asked him to remove from office President Ratu Josefa Iloilo. Tora denied the allegations, and was supported by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, who said that he had been present at the alleged meeting and that no such discussion had taken place. It was confirmed on 27 August that the investigation would go ahead.

Temple arson investigation

On 26 August 2005, Hughes revealed that the police were conducting a full investigation into arson attacks against Hindu temples and other buildings in Fiji's Western Division during the 2000 crisis. Hughes said that "senior politician" who featured prominently in the earlier Rabuka coups of 1987 was the main suspect. This politician, whom he did not name, refused to comment when questioned by investigators, but said that the police were gathering evidence that he was indeed involved in the arson. The politician's relevant telephone conversations were being checked, Hughes said.

Ligairi investigation called for

On 28 October 2005, Opposition Leader Mahendra Chaudhry called for an investigation into the newly formed Ronin High Risk Security Company founded by Ilisoni Ligairi, a former commander of the Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit. Ligairi was the chief security adviser to coup frontman George Speight during the 2000 crisis, and one of his co-directors, Major Isimeli Uluilakeba, is also currently under investigation by the Military for his alleged involvement in the coup. Chaudhry said that it was important that anybody setting up a security firm should have "clean credentials," and that that there could be a sinister purpose behind the registration of the firm. Military spokesman Captain Neumi Leweni confirmed on 4 November that Uluilakeba was still under investigation.

Ligairi denied that the firm was a threat to national security. He said he had set up the firm because of his experience in the area of security, and because it would create employment.

On 30 October, the [ Fiji Sun] reported that state witness Salesi Tuifagalele had complained of having received threatening telephone calls from Ronin Security. In an earlier interview, Tuifagalele had identified himself as one of the martial arts experts party to the plot to kidnap former President Ratu Mara, revealed by co-conspirator Maciu Navakasuasua. Tuifagalele also claimed that Jona Vida, another martial arts expert implicated in the plot, been informed by Military Intelligence about threats to his life from Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit officers imprisoned on coup-related offences. He alleged that Ronin Security was connected with the imprisoned officers making the threats. He said that he and Vida were worried for their families' safety.

The whole saga surrounding Ronin security was later discovered to be a deliberate attempt by the military to discredit the company and all the claims made by Tuifagalele and Vida,both of whom are not martial arts expert were part of that conspiracy.

Calls to halt investigations

Samisoni Tikoinasau (sometimes known as Sam Speight, Jr.), a Cabinet Minister and elder brother of imprisoned coup frontman George Speight, spoke out on 22 December 2005 to call for a halt to investigations into the planning and financing of the coup. The investigations were pointless, he said, and a distraction from the rebuilding of the nation. The details of the 2000 coup were well known, the perpetrators had been punished, and "it should end there," he considered. The ongoing investigations were creating "instability" and undermining the confidence of investors, he alleged. He clarified, however, that his party would "try not to interfere with their (police) work."

Hughes denies interference

On 25 January 2006, Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes denied claims that there had been interference with the police investigations into the coup. The government had never pressured the police he said, and promised to ensure that such behaviour would never be accepted.

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