12 Jan 2005

Fiji government MP arrested on fraud charges

12:05 pm on 12 January 2005

A Fiji government MP and until recently cabinet minister has been charged with two counts of conspiracy to defraud the state.

George Shiu Raj has been granted police bail and has to appear in court on Thursday of next week (Jan 20) to answer to the charges.

The offences relate to the period when Shiu Raj, the only ethnic Indian in the government, was minister for multi-ethnic affairs.

He travelled overseas by economy class when the state paid for business class fares and pocketed the difference.

Shiu Raj was forced to resign when Fiji's auditor general exposed the scam and referred it to the police.

Opposition MP from the New Labour Unity Party, Ofa Duncan, has told Fiji TV that elected officials who betray the trust of their voters and are charged with crime should resign immediately.

But two cabinet ministers currently facing serious coup related charges have refused to step down.

One is the minister for transport, Simione Kaitani, who has been charged with taking an illegal oath to become a purported minister in George Speight's failed administration during the coup.

The other is the minister for lands, Ratu Naigama Lalabalavu, whose court case relating to the Labasa army mutiny during the coup is due to resume later this month.

Meanwhile, the prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, is holding the multi-ethnic affairs portfolio personally and has said he will restore it to Shiu Raj if he is cleared.