Fiji high chief jailed for plot to kill leader

Fiji high chief jailed for plot to kill leader

A Fiji high chief was jailed for seven years Friday for his part in a plot to assassinate the country's military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama, who seized power in a bloodless coup just over three years ago.

Seven other men were sent to prison for three to seven years by a High Court judge, according to reports from the capital Suva, dpa reported.

Earlier this week, five assessors were unanimous in finding that the group plotted to assassinate Bainimarama, who declared himself prime minister after the December 2006 coup, the following year.

Judge Paul Madigan, who was appointed by military decree after Bainimarama sacked all the judges last year, said he agreed with the assessment, made under Fijian law.

The longest sentence of seven years' imprisonment was given to high chief Ratu Inoke Takiveikata and a businessman, Sivaniolo Naulago.

The former head of the Fiji Intelligence Service, Metuisela Mua, was jailed for three years six months and five former members of the Fiji military's Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit were also imprisoned.

Judge Madigan heard evidence from Fiji Military Intelligence that New Zealand businessman Ballu Khan headed the plot and was going to use arms and explosives from New Zealand.

Khan, who was arrested and reportedly beaten up by soldiers two years ago, had a case against him thrown out and legally cannot be retried.

He told Radio New Zealand Friday that he and the other defendants had been framed by the military.

"The fact that they've been sentenced is tragic for a crime they never committed," he said.

"We know this crime was committed by the military. The criminality belongs to the military, not to these people.

"None of them should be going to jail; they should never have been tried in the first place. It is another sad day in the chapter of Fiji's recent history."

The prosecution claimed that the New Zealand government knew about the assassination plot and assisted the conspirators, but a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said Thursday, "We utterly reject the suggestions New Zealand was involved."

He said New Zealand's involvement in the affair was limited to providing standard consular assistance to Ballu Khan, who was arrested with the eight others at the time.

Khan now lives in Auckland.

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