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FICAC Seeks Reddy Retrial

FICAC Seeks Reddy Retrial
Former Minister for Education Mahendra Reddy outside court. Photo: Ronald Kumar
May 15
10:27 2018

The Fiji Independent Com­mission Against Corruption has submitted that there be a retrial against Cabinet minister Mahendra Reddy on charges of bribery and undue influence.

The submission was made in the High Court after Mr Reddy was ac­quitted of the charge in December last year.

FICAC is seeking a retrial after filing an appeal against the mag­istrates’ court decision by Chief Magistrate Usaia Ratuvili.

During submissions on the matter, FICAC prosecutor Rashmi Aslam said the case was a matter of pub­lic interest because the statements uttered by Mr Reddy on May 8, 2017, which led to the matter being initially brought to court, had an impact on democracy and the con­stitutional rights of Fijian citizens.

Mr Reddy is alleged to have di­rectly offered to confer a benefit, namely a steady water source for Ra High School, in order to influ­ence the vote of its school manager; Waisea Lebobo.

He was also alleged to have inter­fered with the free exercise or per­formance of Mr Lebobo’s political right that was relevant to the 2018 General Election.

FICAC appealed against the ac­quittal on the grounds that the learned Magistrate had erred in his analysis of the evidence adduced by the prosecution.

Mr Aslam raised the question that, “If a purported statement of public promise is followed by an apology then what would the state of affairs of the Government be?”

He was referring to a public apol­ogy made by Mr Reddy regarding statements he made during a school managers meeting in Rakiraki on the day of the alleged incident.

The statements were, “Next year, next year, after election…but you should not go on TV and say that this government is not good; if you’re doing that then we will not look after you. So we will watch next year and after the elections, if you are with us, don’t worry, ok tamana, vinaka.”

On the issue of intended benefit, Mr Aslam said the learned magis­trate seemed to have expected some evidence from the Prosecution to show that a benefit of private na­ture was offered to Mr Lebobo.

He said there was no dispute re­garding the same and that the pros­ecution never alleged that there was a benefit of private nature.

Mr Aslam stated that the judg­ment was a wrong analysis and it was beyond what was expected add­ing that the learned magistrate had misled himself.

He submitted that the magistrate had misunderstood the evidence because he was of the view that there was no conclusive evidence to show there was interference in an election which was yet to be de­clared.

He said the offence provisions under Sections 140 and 141 of the Electoral Act did not outline any el­ement which specified that an elec­tion must be declared, adding that the definition of election within the Act did not require a writ to be is­sued to constitute an offence.

Mr Aslam argued that the learned Magistrate’s analysis was confus­ing and he had to make up his mind whether a writ was needed or not and that the prosecution was re­quired to prove an element that was not part of the offence that the ac­cused was charged with.

He told Justice Vincent Perera that the learned Magistrate failed to consider the entire evidence in a very objective manner because there was plenty of inconsistencies and legal errors.

Mr Reddy’s lawyer, Devanesh Sharma, said the offence was a mis­conceived charge because it was silent on who the benefit was being conferred to.

Referring to Mr Lebobo’s evi­dence, Mr Sharma said for a man who was supposedly influenced he had testified that he could not re­member what Mr Reddy had said to him.

“Did the words have any impact on him at all?” Mr Sharma asked.

He said the learned Magistrate had evidence to enable him to de­termine the context in which the banter between his client and Mr Lebobo took place adding that one would not be laughing and applaud­ing if one was under threat.

Mr Sharma submitted that people had the right to choose who they wanted to go into Government.

He said one could change their political allegiance today, tomor­row and the next day, however he questioned if this would change a person’s vote during election.

Mr Sharma submitted that Mr Lebobo was not the “average Joe” rather he was a well-educated re­tired teacher who testified that he did not suffer from undue influ­ence.

Mr Sharma stated that his client had mentioned, “next election” in his statement because he was say­ing that the water project was too big to be accommodated in the cur­rent budget and that Mr Lebobo should wait for the next budget.

He said in the statements he made in reference to the media, Mr Red­dy was advising people that if they had any grievances they had to take it up with Government rather than complaining to the media, which was not the right channel to follow.

Mr Sharma submitted that the case be put to rest.

Justice Perera is expected to de­liver his judgment on June 22, 2018.

Edited by Epineri Vula

Feedback: fonua.talei@fijisun.com.fj

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