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By JYOTI PRATIBHA
The act of former Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase to facilitate allotment of shares to three companies in which he had vested interest was a “gross breach of trust,” says High Court judge Justice Priyantha Fernando.
While sentencing Qarase to 12 months in jail, Justice Fernando said Qarase in his capacity as a director of Fijian Holdings Limited (FHL), financial advisor to the Fijian Affairs Board (FAB) and the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) had a duty to “safeguard the FAB and the institutions like the provincial and tikina councils and iTaukeis.
“Instead, you applied for and facilitated the allotment of shares of FHL to three companies (Q-Ten Investments Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Cicia Plantation Co-operative Society) in which you had personal interest, without disclosing your interest,” Justice Fernando said.
This, he said, was done in priority over provincial and tikina councils and other eligible iTaukei people.
“You thus received gain by abuse of your office. You continued to gain by receiving dividends from the said FHL shares.
You have breached the trust and confidence bestowed in you. You have deprived the said institutions and eligible Fijians of their entitlements. Your actions are not only illegal but against the moral values. The punishment that you ought to receive must reflect the breach of public confidence,” Justice Fernando told Qarase.
Justice Fernando read out the eight page long sentencing to a packed courtroom.
Qarase arrived in court at 11.25am with his wife Leba as a crowd of close to 300 people cheered and clapped.
His children and grandchildren arrived minutes before him.
After his sentencing, Qarase shook hands with his lawyer, Tupou Draunidalo and other supporters inside the courtroom. He hugged his wife before he was escorted out by police officers.
Outside court, he hugged and consoled his grandchildren and shook hands with a few supporters and hugged and kissed his wife before he was taken away in a police vehicle.
In a press statement, he released before his sentencing, Qarase thanked his supporters for their prayers.
“I wish to express to you all my deepest appreciation of your tremendous support, encouragement and best wishes during my High Court trial.
“Whatever the court decision, I thank God for His blessings upon all of us and for your support. I also wish to thank the many prayer groups, individuals, and families, both in Fiji and abroad, who have been praying for me, my family and for Fiji during this difficult period. God Bless you all and God Bless Fiji,” Qarase said.
Ms Draunidalo said she would be discussing matters regarding appealing the sentence with Qarase next week.
Qarase was sentenced after being found guilty of six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he had private interest.