9 May 2003

Fiji vice president faces coup related charges that may carry death penalty

6:09 am on 9 May 2003

Fiji's vice president, Ratu Jope Seniloli, faces a maximum penalty of death if found guilty on coup related offences.

Ratu Jope appeared in the Suva magistrate's court yesterday charged with one count of taking an unlawful oath to commit a capital offence and one count od engaging in seditious enterprise.

The charges relate to Ratu Jope being sworn in as the usurper president immediately after the May 2000 coup when Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was still in office.

They amount to treason and while Fiji's parliament abolished the death penalty for treason last year after George Speight's conviction it did not make the legislation retrospective.

This means the death penalty for treason during the May 2000 coup is still valid.

Many prominent Fiji people held hostage during the coup, including the deposed prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry, will give evidence if Ratu Jope is brought to High Court trial.

The magistrate's court case has been adjourned until June the 11th for a preliminary inquiry to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the prosecution to proceed in the High Court.

Also charged with the vice president with the same offenes are four other people.

They are the sports minister, Isireli Leweniqila, former MP Peceli Rinakama, former army Lt Col Viliame Volavola, and jailed nationalist, Viliame Savu, who is serving time in prison for misprision of treason.