FIJI NEWS

Defence questions Weleilakeba

By JYOTI PRATIBHA The cross-examination of second Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) witness, Sitiveni Weleilakeba, resumed yesterday in the trial of former Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase. Qarase’s lawyer, Tupou
11 Jul 2012 10:44

Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption senior counsel, Michael Blanchflower (left) and lawyer Elizabeth Yang outside the Suva High Court yesterday. Photo: RAMA

By JYOTI PRATIBHA

The cross-examination of second Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) witness, Sitiveni Weleilakeba, resumed yesterday in the trial of former Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase.
Qarase’s lawyer, Tupou Draunidalo, questioned Mr Weleilakeba after he had finished giving prosecution evidence at the High Court in Suva.
The court heard that apart from Qarase, another board member, Joe Mar, had also bought shares from the Fijian Holdings Limited (FHL)
Ms Draunidalo presented in court two annual reports of FHL (1993 and 1996) – from which Mr Weleilakeba read out excerpts of the chairman, the late Lyle Cupit’s address.
From this, Ms Draunidalo highlighted portions where Mr Cupit had stated that there had been criticisms leveled against the board for allowing board members and directors to buy Class A shares of FHL.
In his address, Mr Cupit had stated that the board had not done anything illegal by allowing the sale of FHL shares to board members.
One such member, the court heard was Mr Weleilakeba.
FICAC senior lawyer, Michael Blanchflower, objected to the excerpts being tendered as part of evidence, questioning the truth behind the address which was printed in 1996.

The charges

Qarase denies six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he has a private interest.

Cross-examination:

Ms Draunidalo told Mr Weleilakeba that Qarase had in fact verbally declared his interests in three companies, which was not recorded by Mr Weleilakeba.
She questioned him whether he was aware that when Qarase had made his interests known, Mr Cupit had informed him not to vote during the discussions regarding allotment of shares to the three companies.
Mr Weleilakeba said he could not recall any such discussions between the late chair and the accused.
He said if such a declaration is made, it would have been recorded in the minutes of the meeting, adding that a copy of the minutes was always circulated amongst the board members and any changes they wanted to the minutes would have been made.
Mr Weleilakeba said the fact that it was not noted stated that such declarations had not been made, nor had Qarase asked for his disclosure to be noted.
Ms Draunidalo then questioned whether Qarase was a shareholder at Q-Ten, Mavana Investments Limited or Cicia Plantation Co-op Society Limited when he had applied for and subsequently had shares allotted to the three companies.
Mr Weleilakeba told the court that at the time of allotment of shares, Qarase was not a shareholder in any of the three companies.
However, the court heard that Mr Weleilakeba, while employed as the chief executive officer of FHL and an appointed company secretary, applied for and received shares for STIKS Investments Limited- a company in which he and his former wife, Kelera Uluiviti, were shareholders.
Mr Weleilakeba had earlier told the court that he had made this interest in STIKS Investments Limited known to the board when he had applied for FHL shares.
STIKS Investments Limited was allotted 150,000 Class A shares of FHL.
He told the court that as company secretary he was tasked with checking all applications which meant he checked his own application as well.
When shares had been allotted to STIKS and the three companies in which Qarase is alleged to have had vested interests, FHL was a private company.
Ms Draunidalo asked Mr Weleilakeba if he, as an employee of FHL was allowed to buy FHL shares while Qarase is now facing charges related to similar instances.
Mr Blanchflower objected to this line of questioning, however, Ms Draunidalo said this was a “question of fact”.
Ms Draunidalo went on to question Mr Weleilakeba on the returns earned by those who invested in FHL.
She questioned him whether returns paid out to provincial councils and tikina councils were lucrative, to which he said yes.
She further informed the court through her cross-examination of Mr Weleilakeba that all dividends of Q-Ten Investments Limited, Mavana Investments Limited and Cicia Plantation Co-Op Society were made to its respective directors and that Qarase was not a shareholder in any of the three companies.
Ms Draunidalo questioned Mr Weleilakeba whether Fiji’s former Solicitor-General, Isikeli Mataitoga’s company also bought shares of FHL.
Mr Weleilakeba said he was not sure whether Mr Mataitoga was the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Solicitor-General at the time but his company did have shares of FHL.
Ms Draunidalo questioned Mr Weleilakeba whether former Governor of Reserve Bank of Fiji, Ratu Jone Kubuabola, the then Finance Minister late Josevata Kamikamica and the Fijian Affairs Minister Vatiliai Navunisaravi were part of the board of directors of FHL when Qarase had applied for and was allotted Class A shares on behalf of the three companies.
He agreed that those three former cabinet ministers were part of the board and that they decided who to allot shares to.
Ms Draunidalo further enquired whether the allotment of shares to the three companies finalised after the FHL board had unanimously decided upon it.
Mr Weleilakeba agreed that it was correct.

STIKS Investments Limited:

Ms Draunidalo asked Mr Weleilakeba if he had unfairly taken advantage of his knowledge of the inner workings of FHL to acquire shares of FHL.
Mr Weleilakeba said he saw an opportunity and took it, and did not think he was taking unfair advantage.
He said his purchase of Class A shares of FHL gave him more conviction when he spoke to tikinas and provincial councils about buying of shares from FHL.
Mr Blanchflower will today question Mr Weleilakeba on certain questions raised during his cross-examination by the defence.
The re-examination is expected to take up better part of the day before the third FICAC witness takes stand.



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