Regime And Police Are Undermining Treason Case
Regime And Police Are Undermining Treason Case - Journalist
Issue No: 385 17 January 2001
The military backed interim regime is sabotaging the process of arguing charges against the country's coup plotters, states veteran Pacific region journalist Michael Field. The 15 January AFP article states that legal sources claim that the treason case will only survive if foreign police can assist with evidence.
"Speight and others have been detained on Nukulau Island since being arrested on July 26 and are next due before Chief Magistrate Salesi Temo on January 26 for mention prior to a committal hearing beginning late next month, which could last up to three months."
"However, numerous procedural inadequacies threaten to wreck the hearings. The state has 177 witnesses whose written statements were only handed to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) last week by a special 10-man police `Treason Squad'."
"The source said many of them were `in an appalling state' and cannot stand up in court."
Field states that the DPP's Office "is privately appealing for police evidence specialists from New Zealand to help bail them out", but that "senior Fiji policemen are attempting to block the move".
Field's source also claims that the "police also had a covert "hit squad" intimidating witnesses and threatening its own offices engaged in inquiries."
Field writes further: "AFP was told that treason charges will include extensive allegations of "overt acts" by Speight and his group, many of which he openly boasted about in televised press conferences, which are admissible evidence. Many of the acts relate to a period between May 1 and May 19."
"However, various sources expect the case to collapse on procedural grounds and it very nearly did last week when the DPP's office fumbled hearing processes. Making matters worse, prosecutor Rachael Olytamayin, who was handling the issue in court, has quit."
"The source said late last year the Qarase Government privately promised to issue a decree for a "voluntary bill," a process which would have seen the Speight case moved straight to the High Court, rather than going through the committal or inquiry stage in the lower court."
"However, last week, in a court application, a prosecutor referred to the now abrogated 1997 constitution."
"An angry Justice Minister and Attorney-General, Alipate Qetaki, informed the DPP's office that `as punishment' the decree would not be produced and the Speight case would have to go through the lower court."
"`Such political interference in such a serious case is unheard of in any democracy,' the source said."
"This scale of interference also led judicial and legal officials to believe the high level of ineptitude apparently displayed by police was part of a wider conspiracy by the interim government to stay in power, the source said."
"The evidence produced so far appears to point to Savua as the coup leader. He was cleared of involvement by a secret inquiry conducted by Chief Justice Sir Timoci Tuivaqa but none of the witnesses involved in that hearing, or the proceedings, have been made public."
Field also states that Speight will be spared the punishment for treason:
"Sources expect that if the full Speight hearing goes ahead he will plead guilty to treason, but only after having had months of public hearings to reaffirm the same pro-nationalist views he espoused during the coup."
"He will do that, knowing the mandatory death penalty will be quickly commuted."
"`Speight will be down at ROC (a local coffee house) within days of the trial', the source said."