Former Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama avoids jail in court case sentencing

Former Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.
Former Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. Photo credit: Reuters

Fiji's former long-serving prime minister Frank Bainimarama has avoided jail and was discharged by the Magistrates Court on Thursday, after earlier this month being found guilty by a higher court of perverting the court of justice.

Bainimarama led the Pacific island nation for 16 years until narrowly losing an election in December 2022 to a coalition of parties led by current Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka.

A former military chief, Bainimarama came to power in a 2006 coup and later won democratic elections in 2014 and 2018.

He was found guilty this month by the High Court of attempting to pervert the course of justice while he was prime minister by telling then police commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho to stay away from an investigation into the University of South Pacific, court documents show.

The High Court had overturned an earlier not guilty verdict delivered last year by magistrate Seini Paumau in the Magistrates Court, and returned the case to the lower court for sentencing.

On Thursday Paumau delivered a sentence that cited Bainimarama's poor health and heart condition and granted him an absolute discharge.

Fiji's Acting Director of Public Prosecutions, John Rabuku, filed an appeal against the sentence on Thursday afternoon.

The sentence was "manifestly lenient" and "erred in law", the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

In sentencing Bainimarama, Puamau announced his conviction would not be registered, the statement added.

Bainimarama, who wished supporters "Happy Easter" outside the court, could not be reached for comment.