5 Feb 2003

Fiji government ministers fail to appear for defence at Suva treason trial

6:29 am on 5 February 2003

The deputy speaker of Fiji's parliament, Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure, has escaped arrest for failing to turn up as a defence witness in the treason trial of coup accomplice, Timoci Silatolu

Sialatolu's state-funded defence lawyer, Sevuloni Valenitabua, declined an offer by Justice Andrew Wilson to issue a warrent for Ratu Rakuita's arrest.

Two government ministers, the sports minister, Isireli Leweniqila, and the assistant minister in the prime minister's office, Simione Kaitani, also failed to appear for the defence although Mr Valenituba had earlier said they would.

This led to the premature end of Silatolu's trial and the appearance of his co-accused, Josefa Nata, in the witness box.

Nata's state-funded lawyer, Alexander Wolfe, said he would be calling as witnesses government ministers, Fiji's High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, and some of the convicts serving jail sentences for their role in the coup.

He named the minister for lands, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, and the minister for sport Isireli Leweniqila, who are both MPs of the pro-coup Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua Party.

When Nata appeared in the witness box, he maintained that he did not know of the coup and denied attending a planning meeting the previous day as outlined in the prosecution case.

Nata said he only went to parliament after being told of the coup by Silatolu.

The trial will continue in Suva today.