Former Fiji military officer sentenced to five years prison on mutiny | Pacific Beat

Former Fiji military officer sentenced to five years prison on mutiny

Former Fiji military officer sentenced to five years prison on mutiny

Updated 12 December 2013, 18:02 AEST

A former high ranking officer in Fiji's military has been sentenced to five years in prison for inciting mutiny.

Colonel Pita Driti was the commander of Fiji's Land Forces, and had been a strong supporter of Commodore Frank Bainimarama's 2006 coup.

But in 2010 he and other officers were charged with mutiny and committing a seditious act after it was alleged they had plotted to overthrow and banish the 2006 coup leader and current prime minister of the military backed regime.

Last month the country's High Court found him guilty of the mutiny charge.

Presenter: Pacific correspondent Campbell Cooney

Speaker: Vijay Naryan, News Director of Fiji Communications

NARYAN: Former Land Force Commander Pita Driti has been sentenced to five years imprisonment by presiding Judge, Justice Paul Madigan. After highlight the facts of the case in the packed court room, Justice Madigan told Driti to stand up. He said inciting to mutiny is a very serious offence. Justice Madigan started the sentence at six years and then added four years for the aggravating factors. He then deducted five years off the sentence. The judge then set Pita Driti's sentence to 5 years imprisonment and has to serve four years before he's eligible for parole.

COONEY: What sort of response was there from former Colonel Driti and his family at that sentencing Vijay?

NARYAN: He shook hands with his lawyer, Filimoni Vosarogo, and his body language and facial expression was clear that he almost expected that it would be a prison sentence. Following that, he met with some of his family members and then the police officers took him away to take him to the prison complex.

COONEY: Where will be kept?

NARYAN: That hasn't been confirmed as yet, but definitely the main prisons near Suva area are Korovou and Naboro. The confirmation hasn't come through, but he will be in either of the two.

COONEY: Vijay Naryan, quickly if you wouldn't mind, just some background to these charges and the events that set them in track?

NARYAN: Definitely yeah. Of course, Pita Driti was charged in inciting to mutiny and that carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years. The prosecution's case that Driti made comments to junior officers between August to October, 2010, that the attorney-general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum should be removed as he was influencing the prime minister and army Commander Bainimarama too much. The prosecution also brought evidence to prove that Driti shared the Sudan plan with Lieutenant-Colonel Manasa Tagicakibau. Of course, Lieutenant-Colonel Manasa Tagicakibau was the key state witness.

The plan was to cancel prime minister and army commander Commodore Bainimarama's passport when he went to Sudan, not to allow him back in the country, go to the president and dissolve the government, remove the president if he did not agree to follow the plan, appoint an interim administration made up of former SDL party including the Great Council of Chiefs and the Methodist Church, detain and send the Bainimarama family to another country and bring in troops from Australia and New Zealand to secure the border to contain any internal conflicts from these granted people.

The prosecution also presented evidence to prove that Driti also met with fugitive, Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara. Their plans were discussed in September and October 2010. Evidence was also presented about the unaccounted weapons and ammunition that was being piled up at the Grand Pacific Hotel site in 2010. The weapons and ammunition were significantly more than the soldiers based at the site.

Peta Driti had confirmed in court during the trial that he made comments about Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and had asked intelligence cells to track Sayed-Khaiyum and report to him. He had also said that he said to junior officers that Sayed-Khaiyum was influencing the prime minister in government decisions.

However, Peta Driti denied in court during the trial, saying to Lieutenant-Colonel Manasa Tagicakibau that the attorney-general had to be eliminated by Christmas 2010. Driti said that the options were allegedly brought up by some of the senior military officers and he alleged that Ratu Tevita Mara was the messenger. He also claimed that he did not report to the army commander about the plans, as he thought it was as set up by one of the senior officers.

COONEY: And, of course, Ratu Tevita Mara no longer in Fiji. He escaped via Tonga. Any talk at this stage Vijay, of an appeal?

NARYAN: I've spoken to Driti's lawyer, Filimoni Vosarogo. He said he hasn't had time to speak to his client about the option to appeal and he'll be speaking to him over the next few days and then confirm whether they will appeal the sentence.

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