NATION

High Court Dismisses FICAC Appeal On Reddy’s Acquittal

High Court judge Justice Vinsent Perera yesterday dismissed the appeal filed by Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption (FICAC) against former Education Minister Mahendra Reddy’s acquittal. In an 18-page judgment it
23 Jun 2018 12:02
High Court Dismisses FICAC Appeal On Reddy’s Acquittal
Former Education Minister Mahendra Reddy outside the High Court in Suva on June 22, 2018. Photo: Fonua Talei

High Court judge Justice Vinsent Perera yesterday dismissed the appeal filed by Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption (FICAC) against former Education Minister Mahendra Reddy’s acquittal.

In an 18-page judgment it was revealed that FICAC had advanced eight grounds of appeal.

Reddy was charged with one count each of bribery and undue influence.

Both charges were based on an answer that Mr Reddy gave as the former Minister of Education in response to a question posed to him by a Waisea Lebobo during a ceremony at Ra High School on May 8, 2017.

The first two grounds of appeal were related to the first count of bribery.

Justice Perera found that there was only one issue raised in both grounds which was whether the learned Magistrate erred by deciding that Mr Reddy’s conduct fell within the scope of the defence provided under Section 140 (3) of the Electoral Act.

He said the section does not apply to a declaration of public policy or a promise of public action.

Justice Perera said the words uttered by Mr Reddy did not contain any clear promise in relation to water.

He said the words “we will look after you” entailed a very broad meaning.

He said he was not convinced that the words, “So we will watch next year and after the elections if you are with us, don’t worry, ok tamana.. vinaka, vinaka” satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Reddy had made a promise in relation to providing water.

“The statement made by the respondent considered in its entirety and given the position the respondent held as a Government Minister, may be viewed as unwise and inappropriate,” he said.

“But I am unable to accept that the said statement constitutes a conferring or an offer to confer a benefit within the meaning of Section 140 (2) of the Electoral Act in the form of steady water source to Ra High School.”

He said the promise fell within the purview of a promise of a public action adding that, “providing water to a public school is indeed a public action”.

Justice Perera said there was no conclusive evidence that Mr Lebobo’s political right had been interfered with by Mr Reddy either in general or relevant to the 2018 General Election.

He disagreed that an offence under Section 141 of the Electoral Act could only be committed during the period between the issuance of the writ of election and the day of election.

FICAC had submitted in its last ground of appeal that the learned Magistrate erred in law by failing to consider the political rights available for Mr Lebobo under the 2013 Fijian Constitution.

Justice Perera agreed with FICAC to the extent that the learned Magistrate should have indicated in his judgment what he regarded as ‘political rights’ with regard to the charge of undue influence.

However, he said the conclusion of the learned Magistrate was the same conclusion that he had arrived at after considering the provisions of the Constitution relied on by FICAC.

Accordingly, Justice Perera dismissed FICAC’s appeal and affirmed the judgment of the learned Magistrate.

Edited by Percy Kean

fonua.talei@fijisun.com.fj

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