15 Nov 2006

Former Fiji top official gets four year jail term for agriculture ministry scam

6:43 pm on 15 November 2006

The former head of Fiji's agriculture ministry who presided over a 13-million US dollar scam five years ago, Peniasi Kunatuba, has been jailed for 4 years.

Justice Nazhat Shameem agreed with the unanimous verdict of all five assessors that Kunatuba was guilty of the two counts of abuse of office he had been charged with.

Radio Legend quotes her as saying Kunatuba being the chief accounting officer of the agriculture ministry and a senior public servant knew the Farming Assistance Scheme needed cabinet approval.

But he did not seek such approval until millions of dollars had been spent and millions more committed.

Justice Shameem said the picture presented in court was that Kunatuba had implemented a chaotic and uncontrollable scheme.

As well, he failed to resist political pressure and act in a neutral way, while failing the public and benefiting personally.

She highlighted that after the May 2000 coup when many arms of the government were powerless, there was a greater need for the public service to guard the public purse.

Justice Shameem said Kunatuba's actions were a gross breach of the public trust and the 4-year sentence was warranted.

An application for bail pending appeal by Kunatuba's lawyer, Tevita Fa, will be heard by Justice Shameem tomorrow.