3 Aug 2004

Fiji prosecutor rejects Seniloli claim of hostage support

3:21 pm on 3 August 2004

The Suva High Court has been told that vice president Seniloli was a retired school teacher too greedy for the power and prestige attached to the Presidency to resist being sworn in as the usurper president during the coup.

Radio Fiji says chief prosecutor Mark Tedeschi QC told the court Seniloli was too intoxicated with becoming president to have any courage to ask for the release of Mahendra Chaudhry and other hostages held by George Speight's gunmen.

Mr Tedeschi completely rejected Seniloli's un-sworn statement that his actions were out of necessity to calm down Speight, save the lives of Mr Chaudhry and his son Rajendra and reinstate the deposed government.

The prosecutor said there was no evidence to prove that Seniloli pursued the release of Chaudhry and others after he was sworn in as the rebel president.

Mr Tedeschi, who is the chief prosecutor of New South Wales, said there was no evidence that Seniloli approached the then president, the army commander or the police on behalf of the hostages.

He said the only evidence presented to the court showed Seniloli enjoying kava after being sworn in as president and in the ensuing days.

He said Seniloli took the illegal oath for personal benefit and is therefore guilty of treason.

Mr Tedeschi also rubbished the defence of compulsion put forward by the five other accused, saying the gunmen did not threaten the accused with death if they did not become ministers in the rebel government.

Meanwhile, police say there's unlikely to be a protest march over the trial.

Police spokesman, Mesake Koroi, says police teams, which have been visiting Tailevu and Naitasiri provinces to explain the reasons behind the trial, have been met with goodwill.

He says information they received showed there were some elements moving around trying to persuade villagers that a high chief shouldn't be on trial and that charges should be dropped.

Mr Koroi says this is why the police were pro-active and sent teams out.

Earlier media reports stated that a march would be held in Suva over the trial but Mr Koroi says he doesn't believe this will now happen.

"We do not anticipate anything like that at all with the current assurances that we've been getting, the amount of goodwill that we have generated as a result of these public relations exercise. The police are pretty certain that no such thing will happen because this is just the beginning of the case."

Mesake Koroi says whatever the outcome of the trial, there are likely to be appeals and the process will take some time.