28 Mar 2024

Former Fiji leader Frank Bainimarama, suspended police chief avoid jail in corruption case

4:06 pm on 28 March 2024
Bainimarama, middle, arrives to court with his wife, Mary, right, for the sentencing.

Bainimarama, middle, arrives to court with his wife, Mary, right, for the sentencing. Photo: RNZ Pacific

Frank Bainimarama was given an absolute discharge in a packed Suva's Magistrates Court on Thursday after last week being convicted of perverting the course of justice.

An absolute discharge is the lowest-level sentence that an offender can get. It means no conviction is registered against Bainimarama.

State broadcaster FBC reports, Magistrate Seini Puamau considered Bainimarama's health.

The 69-year-old was sentenced alongside suspended police chief Sitiveni Qiliho, who was given a FJ$1500 fine without conviction as well.

The absolute discharge and a fine without conviction was given despite the prosecutors last week urging Magistrate Puamau to order immediate custodial sentences towards the high end of the tariff for both men - which would be no less than five years in jail for Bainimarama and 10 years for Qiliho.

As Baimarama walked out of the court room, he was embraced by his family and supporters.

Responding to a journalist's question on how he was feeling, he replied: "On top of the world".

'Surprising' outcome

Fijian governance professor Vijay Naidu told RNZ Pacific the Magistrate has been sypathetic to both men.

"It is surprising in that the sentencing is like the minimalist kind of approach," he said.

"I didn't expect the Magistrate to sentence them for the maximum of you know 10...and five years, but the sentence now is quite farcical because these persons are found guilty and they are given sentences that, to say the least, is quite ludicrous."

He said Bainimarama is not out of the woods yet because there is a whole string of other charges that he will face in the coming months.