12 Aug 2005

Assessors find Fiji government minister not guilty of coup related charges

7:08 pm on 12 August 2005

All five assessors listening to the High Court trial of Fiji's transport minister, Simione Kaitani, have found him not guilty of serious coup related charges.

Kaitani, Lepani Tonitonivanua, Eroni Lewaqai and Viliame Sausauwai had been charged with taking illegal oaths to join George Speight's failed administration as ministers during the coup.

After a trial lasting two months and evidence from 13 witnesses, Justice Anthony Gates summed up of the legal arguments and directed the assessors to put aside all bias and emotion when reaching a verdict.

Justice Gates said the admission by three of the four in police statements was direct evidence that they took oaths as they could have denied everything when given the opportunity to do so.

He said Kaitani, while being evasive during police questioning, never denied taking or signing the oath.

Justice Gates told the assessors that they must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the four accused took oaths to join Speight's rebel administration on May the 20th, 2000.

When the assessors returned with their verdict several hours later they found Kaitani and the four accused not guilty.

Justice Gates has convened the court on Monday when he will deliver his ruling on the case.

Under Fiji's law, a judge can overturn the opinion of the assessors and reach the opposite verdict.

But in practice this is unusual.