Fiji ex-PM avoids jail in sentencing hearing following guilty verdict News
Prime Minister's Office, GODL-India, via Wikimedia Commons
Fiji ex-PM avoids jail in sentencing hearing following guilty verdict

Fiji’s former Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama on Thursday was granted “absolute discharge” by the Magistrates Court, after previously being handed a guilty verdict by the country’s High Court for “perverting the course of justice.” The Magistrates Court cited Bainimarama’s poor health and an underlying heart condition as motivating factors for this lenient decision. 

Bainimarama, a former naval officer who served as the country’s longest-running prime minister from 2007-2022, was found guilty earlier this month by the Fijian High Court of attempting to “pervert the course of justice” during his time in office by instructing police officials—including then-police commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho, who is a named co-defendant in this case—to “stay away” from an ongoing investigation into the University of the South Pacific in 2020. 

The High Court, in handing down their verdict, overturned an earlier not guilty verdict delivered in 2023 by the Magistrates Court. Justice Salesi Temo of the High Court found that the Magistrate had “erred in fact and in law when she found both the respondents not guilty,” and therefore overturned the Magistrate’s decision. However, the High Court did return the case to the lower court for sentencing. 

Following Thursday’s decision, the Acting Director of Public Prosecutions John Rabuku filed an immediate appeal against the lenient sentence of Bainirama and Qiliho. In their Thursday decision, the Magistrates Court also issued a conditional discharge with a fine of $1500 for Qiliho. 

“The sentence delivered by Magistrate Puamau is unsatisfactory, is wrong both in fact and in law and does not reflect the considerations and tariff of cases or matters of similar nature,” Rabuku said, in a statement released by his office. The statement went on to share that the state filed four grounds of appeal with the High Court Thursday afternoon for consideration in the case against the former prime minister and Qiliho.