Qarase had no vested interests: LawyerBy FONUA TALEI
Charges being appealed
Laisenia Qarase was found guilty in the High Court on July 31 last year for six counts of abuse of office and three counts of discharge of duty with respect to property in which he allegedly had a private interest.
New appeal lawyer
Chair of the Victoria Criminal Bar and Queens Counsel (QC) Remy van de Wiel, made submissions in the Fiji Court of Appeal yesterday on the lack of correlation made in the presiding judge’s summing up of Laisenia Qarase’s case.
Addressing the Court yesterday, QC Wiel, who is representing the former Prime Minister in his appeal of conviction, said the learned trial judge in his judgment analysis, failed to relate the law to the facts of the case.
He said the Fijian Holdings Limited as a company encouraged the indigenous people to separate themselves from communalisation.
Referring to the company’s memorandum of association in trial exhibits, he said it was a company involved in financing investment in other companies, adding there was no trading of any sort involved.
While making reference to page 35 of Appeal Book two, QC Wiel, highlighted the need for a general notice to be issued by any board member who wished to take up dealings with the company.
However, he mentioned that there were no specific details as to the form of which the notice was to be given prior to any submission of application for shares by board members.
He stated the Fijian Holdings Limited received applications for shares from interested companies, after which the then board secretary Sitiveni Weleilakeba, conducted background checks on the applicants with respect to their financials, membership, and if shareholders were registered under the iVola Ni Kawa Bula (VKB) or not.
Further, he said applications that met all requirements were then forwarded for approval by the board during board meetings.
Referring to his client’s relation to companies Q-Ten, Mavana Investment Limited, and Cicia Plantation and Co-op Society Limited, QC Wiel, said his client did not hold shares in the companies, was not paid and his association to the province was known by top board members.
Adding, it amounted to sufficient general notice on Qarase’s behalf.
On the issue of declaration of interest in aforementioned companies, QC Wiel submitted that it was the secretary’s duty to note in the minutes what is discussed during board meetings, however these were not written in finer details in the board minutes.
He mentioned that there was no record of discussions made during the meetings, voting, and identity of members present, adding that the minute only indicated the board’s resolution at the end of the meetings.
He also mentioned that a letter made by Qarase for Q-Ten company shares could not be disclosed by prosecution during the trial which made it impossible to ascertain whether there was full disclosure or not.
“That company made application for funds to purchase shares, but the application itself could never prejudice anybody because they go to Weleilakeba the secretary of the board, he checks, so it could never have been the subject of any charge,” QC Wiel told the Court.
In a letter dated February 7, 1992 signed by Qarase as director of the Mavana Investment Limited, QC Wiel highlighted what was written saying the company is wholly owned by the people of Mavana from Vanuabalavu in Lau, adding that Qarase is not a shareholder in the company and the village consisted of variety of people through marriage to that village.
It was also revealed in Court that Qarase made applications on behalf of the said companies to ensure that the companies had sufficient capital.
The Court was also further directed to the summing up of trial judge judge Justice Priyantha Fernando.
Referring to the charges against Qarase, QC Wiel said his client had no authority as financial advisor, rather his duty was to provide advice to the Fijian Affairs Board and Great Council of Chiefs which may or may not be accepted.
He said his client could hardly abuse his authority of his office.
QC Wiel also stated that his client was not employed in the public service as advisor to the Council of Chiefs, adding that the position does not exist.
He dismissed allegation that Qarase had vested interest in company shares for purpose of personal gain stating that Qarase is an unpaid Director of Mavana Investments and also was an unpaid financial advisor.
In relation to Cicia Plantation, counsel for the applicant highlighted that application for shares could have been made by anybody, there was no prominence given to any application and that all applications went through the same process.
He said there was no prohibition provision that kept directors from applying for shares and owning shares.
On ground three of appeal submission, QC Wiel stated that the trial judge failed to adequately direct the assessors between applying for shares and facilitating approval.
He said if the trial judge had made his analysis on materials tendered through documentation which was hard for the assessors to understand, he should not have found Qarase guilty.
He submitted that the trial judge should have made an independent assessment on the evidence, and should have reminded the assessors that the alleged offence happened 20 years prior to the trial.
Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption prosecutor Michael Blanchflower will make his submissions for the respondent, in the Appeal’s Court of Appeal today.