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Sat. May 25th, 2024

Former Fiji prime minister Frank Bainimarama has been sentenced Thursday to one year in prison for perverting the course of justice, with a judge finding he used his political clout to shut down a police investigation.

Bainimarama was sentenced at Fiji’s High Court in the capital Suva, after being found guilty this year of quashing a police probe into alleged corruption at a Fijian university.

The former military commander seized power in a bloodless coup in 2006 and remains a popular figure in the South Pacific nation.

A crowd of supporters sang outside the court as the sentence was handed down, before Bainimarama was handcuffed and led away into a waiting police truck.

Bainimarama’s wife Maria sobbed throughout acting Chief Justice Salesi Temo’s sentencing remarks. 

A lower court magistrate ruled in March that Bainimarama’s ailing health — he underwent urgent heart surgery in 2022 — meant the 70-year-old should not be sent to prison. 

But Temo upended this decision, saying it “completely ignored” the severity of Bainimarama’s actions. 

The judge lashed former naval commodore Bainimarama for trashing his oaths of office.  

He did, however, reduce Bainimarama’s sentence on the strength of character references provided by two former Fijian presidents. 

Fiji’s former police commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho, a longtime ally of Bainimarama, was handed a two-year prison sentence in the same case. 

The charges relate to a police investigation into staff at Fiji’s University of the South Pacific in July 2020, when Bainimarama was prime minister and Qiliho the country’s top officer.

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