12 Sep 2005

Acquittal of Fiji Cabinet Minister raises concerns about other cases

7:23 am on 12 September 2005

Fiji's auditor general has expressed concern that the acquittal of a former cabinet minister on charges of defrauding the state will have an adverse impact on upcoming cases of corruption in the government.

Suva High Court judge Justice Gerard Winter acquitted the former minister for multi-ethnic affairs, George Shiu Raj, last Friday saying he agreed with the defence submission that the accused had no case to answer.

Mr Shiu Raj had been charged in relation to travelling to India twice by economy class when his ministry paid for business class travel and using the difference in fares for his personal use.

The auditor general, Eroni Vatuleka, has told the Sunday Times he believes the former minister was wrong to use the 6-thousand-600 US dollars saved from the business class ticket for his personal benefit.

Mr Vatuleka says even though the funds were paid back by Mr Shiu Raj, it still did not justify the action he took.

The auditor general says he is concerned about the effect such judgements will have on upcoming corruption cases, including those being brought in connection with the 13-million US dollar agriculture ministry scam.

The prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, says Mr Shiu Raj will get his old portfolio back this week