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FIJI: Lawyer blasts police investigations

FIJI: Lawyer blasts police investigations

USP Pacific Journalism Online: http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/ USP Journalism on the Fiji crisis (UTS host): http://www.journalism.uts.edu.au/archive/coup.html
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SUVA: A former Fijian police investigator who is now a criminal lawyer today condemned investigation methods over the National Bank of Fiji scandal involving more than $220 million.

Naipote Vere, who resigned from Fiji's police force in 1998 in the wake of a controversy over allegations about Police Commissioner Isikia Savua, questioned in an interview with the Fiji Sun how the NBF investigations were carried out into "top level people" in government.

Commissioner Savua has been suspended this week pending an inquiry into allegations of his involvement in the May insurrection led by failed businessman George Speight.

In an editorial today, the Fiji Times said Commissioner Savua "may have acted suspiciously" before and after May 19 but he should not be condemned by the public before any court found him guilty of any crime.

"Until the inquiry - and court trial if any - Mr Savua is innocent of any wrongdoing," the paper said.

But in the Fiji Sun "hardtalk" interview, Vere challenged Savua's role in the NBF investigations.

"Why was Savua personally responsible for all investigations in the NBF saga when he was not a trained detective and does not know what the law of evidence is all about, or the procedure that had to be followed in the investigation?" he asked.

"But I figured he was there to protect some people who were involved.

"The investigations were not carried out to normal procedure.

"There was the former Prime Minister [Sitiveni Rabuka] who was given a set of questions to answer. That's not the way to go about it in a criminal investigation...

"Giving a set of questions gives them [people being investigated] lots of room to play up with the investigation, destroy the evidence, mislead investigators. That's what happened in the NBF investigation when everything went wrong."

Vere blamed Savua for a drop in morale in the police force.

"To be a good leader, you don't run away overseas during the height of a crisis," he said, referring to Savua's attendance at a security conference in Vanuatu in June.

"Or being absent during the burial of a fellow police officer [shot by rebels]. I know what a well-motivated police officer is like."

Vere highlighted Savua's links with former coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka's SVT government.

"I knew that Savua was very close to the SVT as he was selected to be commissioner by the [Rabuka] government as it was a political appointment," Vere told the Fiji Sun.

"Here I suspected a likelihood that if the SVT loses the election then the police would come in handy."

Vere also talked about efforts by the SVT after the election defeat in May 1999 to enlist Christian Democratic Alliance help in a destabilisation campaign aimed against the Mahendra Chaudhry government.

"The CDA and SVT headquarters were opposite each other and three days later, after the new government took office, the SVT rang us. A son of a prominent businessman in that SVT called us to go across and talk about civil disobedience and a possibility of a coup, but we refused."

In the editorial today, the Fiji Times said Savua's movements and public statements "would inevitably have raised some eyebrows".

But the paper cautioned people to substantiate their claims.

"The inquiry provides the opportunity to those who have a genuine complaint, and, more importantly, evidence of any illegal activities implicatng him, to produce them for investigation.

"It is totally unfair to blame Mr Savua or any citizen for that matter for any illegal activity or unethical practice without providing supporting evidence. One only exposes one to libel by doing so."

Meanwhile, Vere's lawyer has filed a writ alleging defamation against the government and the Fiji Times over complaints lodged against Commissioner Savua in 1998 which led to the police chief being investigated for 19 offences.

An article in the Fiji Times published later in the year alleged that Vere was insincere and he was forced to resign after 32 years in the police force.

+++niuswire

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