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Judge Concurs, Convicts All Four

All the four accused in the $3.1million road scam trial were yesterday found guilty and have been remanded in custody to await sentencing tomorrow. This is after judge Justice Paul
23 Jun 2015 13:14
Judge Concurs, Convicts All Four
Convicted...From left Navitalai Tamanitoakula, Aisea Liwaiono, Firoz Jan Mohammed and Iliesa Turagacati.

All the four accused in the $3.1million road scam trial were yesterday found guilty and have been remanded in custody to await sentencing tomorrow.

This is after judge Justice Paul Madigan concurred with the assessors guilty opinion for all the accused on all counts at the High Court in Suva.

The four are Firoz Jan Mohammed, Iliesa Turagacati, Navitalai Tamanitoakula and Aisea Liwaiono.

Last Friday, the assessors found Mohammed, Turagacati and Tamanitoakula guilty of bribery, obtaining a financial advantage and abuse of office and perverting the course of justice while Liwaiono was found guilty of two counts of causing a loss.

Justice Madigan in his judgement directed himself on the summing up he gave on Friday. He said the first-accused gave money which the second accused accepted. The defence came up with a reasonable excuse of a ‘fish businesses’ which Justice Madigan said was discredited by the Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption.

He said there were two unsophisticated witnesses who informed the court that they had not known the second- accused and never directed the first-accused to divert the royalty payments to Turagacati for any fish deals. He said they did not know anything about telegraphic money orders.

He said the fish businessman, who Turagacati only met two months before the trial, looked like a coached witness, who was jumping to give evidence on royalty payments, and that he was a close friend of Mohammed, further discredited his evidence.

Justice Madigan said FICAC’s financial investigator Frank Tora’s analysis was excellent and his claim was that the ‘bigger the cheque, the bigger the reward,’ and the money trail charts were helpful.

As for obtaining financial advantage, Justice Madigan said prosecution took the court through 14 payments, with forged claims, signatures, and unjustified claims for work done. He said the defence argued that there were works done but they ignored the fact that invoices were bogus.

In terms of facilitating payments, there was circumstantial evidence that the second-accused disregarded the verification process and yet paid out large sums to T.F. Jan Bulldozing which even had forged signatures of the divisional engineer western.

For causing a loss, Justice Madigan said the third-accused was a senior person and when alerted that there were large overpayments being done, he did not make any effort to investigate or cross-check but approved payments amounting to $2.46million.

He went on to say that for Liwaiono being the senior person at the site, he was responsible to check if works were done or not. He said there was evidence that he was called to T.F.Jan Bulldozing during a holiday to sign documents and he in his caution interviewed admitted signing it. He said the accused turned a blind eye and signed invoices and claims of $95,773.52 and $315,000.

Justice Madigan said in relation to perverting the course of justice, Prosecution witness Azim Ali was convincing and unshaken. He said Ali gave evidence that Mohammed instructed him to get a statutory declaration done so that when questioned or investigation, he could use it as defence.

Charges

Count one and two, bribery: Firoz Jan Mohammed gave $110,000 to Iliesa Turagacati which he accepted.

Count three, obtaining financial advantage: For that same period Mohammed lodged false invoices and circumvented procedures to obtain an advantage of over $3 million

Count four, five six and seven, dishonestly causing a risk of loss: Turagacati facilitating payments of over $3.1million and Tamanitoakula, senior accounts officer of DNR, abused the authority of his office, did an arbitrary act in processing payments amounting to $2.468 million to T.F Jan Bulldozing without following proper procedures.

Liwaiono whilst being employed with the then DNR dishonestly caused a risk of loss to DNR by falsely verifying the statement of invoice dated December 31, 2010 amounting to $95,773.52 and $315,000 for TF Jan Bulldozing knowing that there was a substantial risk of loss to FRA

Count eight: Perverting the cause of Justice; Mohammed is also charged with a count of perverting the course of justice by submitting false statutory declaration for investigation purposes.

All accused are guilty as charged and convicted accordingly.

Mitigation

Mitigation submissions were made in court by Mohammed’s lawyer Ian Lloyd Queen, QC, who submitted character references and other documents.

He submitted that Mohammed was not in a position to pay a fine if imposed. Justice Madigan asked what happened to all the gains to which Mr Lloyd said it was transferred to other sister companies as they had been running in debt.

He also submitted that the accused had fixed assets totaling $200,000 and his income statements were submitted of which Justice Madigan remarked that he could not believe that the accused was being paid less than a law clerk.

Justice Madigan made a point that the accused showed no remorse and showed inappropriate behaviour towards the media for which his lawyer had apologised on his behalf.

Nancy Tikoisuva for Turagacati said her client was 49 years old, married with four children of which one had passed away. She said her client was supporting two of his children’s education with His FNPF savings and that he was ready to face imprisonment for breach of trust. She said that her client’s circumstances were vulnerable during the time of offence as he needed to raise money for his son’s medical condition.

Filimone Vosarogo for Tamanitoakula called two character witneses who asked court for its mercy during sentencing and said Taminitoakula was a humble, hardworking and a good person. He submitted that there was no evidence that his client gained anything out of facilitating those payments and there was little involvement in the offence from his client.

Taina Leweni for Liwaiono said the accused was 58 years old, married with nine children. She said her client also had minimum involvement and was sickly. She said her client was receiving medication for various medical conditions. She asked for a suspended sentence for her client.

Sentencing submission

FICAC prosecutor Rashmi Aslam assisted by Temalesi Waqabaca and Lilian Mausio submitted that the tariff for bribes be raised as it was a serious offence.

Mr Aslam suggested that the starting point be between sx to seven years with a maximum 10 years imprisonment. However he agreed that for bribe counts, sentences be made concurrent as giving and receiving bribes were connected.

He also submitted that the issue of breach of trust be also looked into in sentencing. He disagreed that the third and fourth-accused’s involvement was minimal because it was their responsibility to check, verify and see that payments made were done accurately.

He also said the value of properties given by Mohammed was unsubstantiated as there was no proof of who did the valuation. He said there was also no company tax returns submitted to court and that $3.1million was transferred into sister companies of T.F Jan Bulldozing but the money was proceeds of crime.

Justice Madigan will hand down the sentences on Wednesday at 10am.

Feedback: farisha.ahmed@fijisun.com.fj

 


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