The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption has submitted that there be a retrial against Cabinet minister Mahendra Reddy on charges of bribery and undue influence.
The submission was made in the High Court after Mr Reddy was acquitted of the charge in December last year.
FICAC is seeking a retrial after filing an appeal against the magistrates’ court decision by Chief Magistrate Usaia Ratuvili.
During submissions on the matter, FICAC prosecutor Rashmi Aslam said the case was a matter of public interest because the statements uttered by Mr Reddy on May 8, 2017, which led to the matter being initially brought to court, had an impact on democracy and the constitutional rights of Fijian citizens.
Mr Reddy is alleged to have directly offered to confer a benefit, namely a steady water source for Ra High School, in order to influence the vote of its school manager; Waisea Lebobo.
He was also alleged to have interfered with the free exercise or performance of Mr Lebobo’s political right that was relevant to the 2018 General Election.
FICAC appealed against the acquittal on the grounds that the learned Magistrate had erred in his analysis of the evidence adduced by the prosecution.
Mr Aslam raised the question that, “If a purported statement of public promise is followed by an apology then what would the state of affairs of the Government be?”
He was referring to a public apology made by Mr Reddy regarding statements he made during a school managers meeting in Rakiraki on the day of the alleged incident.
The statements were, “Next year, next year, after election…but you should not go on TV and say that this government is not good; if you’re doing that then we will not look after you. So we will watch next year and after the elections, if you are with us, don’t worry, ok tamana, vinaka.”
On the issue of intended benefit, Mr Aslam said the learned magistrate seemed to have expected some evidence from the Prosecution to show that a benefit of private nature was offered to Mr Lebobo.
He said there was no dispute regarding the same and that the prosecution never alleged that there was a benefit of private nature.
Mr Aslam stated that the judgment was a wrong analysis and it was beyond what was expected adding that the learned magistrate had misled himself.
He submitted that the magistrate had misunderstood the evidence because he was of the view that there was no conclusive evidence to show there was interference in an election which was yet to be declared.
He said the offence provisions under Sections 140 and 141 of the Electoral Act did not outline any element which specified that an election must be declared, adding that the definition of election within the Act did not require a writ to be issued to constitute an offence.
Mr Aslam argued that the learned Magistrate’s analysis was confusing and he had to make up his mind whether a writ was needed or not and that the prosecution was required to prove an element that was not part of the offence that the accused was charged with.
He told Justice Vincent Perera that the learned Magistrate failed to consider the entire evidence in a very objective manner because there was plenty of inconsistencies and legal errors.
Mr Reddy’s lawyer, Devanesh Sharma, said the offence was a misconceived charge because it was silent on who the benefit was being conferred to.
Referring to Mr Lebobo’s evidence, Mr Sharma said for a man who was supposedly influenced he had testified that he could not remember what Mr Reddy had said to him.
“Did the words have any impact on him at all?” Mr Sharma asked.
He said the learned Magistrate had evidence to enable him to determine the context in which the banter between his client and Mr Lebobo took place adding that one would not be laughing and applauding if one was under threat.
Mr Sharma submitted that people had the right to choose who they wanted to go into Government.
He said one could change their political allegiance today, tomorrow and the next day, however he questioned if this would change a person’s vote during election.
Mr Sharma submitted that Mr Lebobo was not the “average Joe” rather he was a well-educated retired teacher who testified that he did not suffer from undue influence.
Mr Sharma stated that his client had mentioned, “next election” in his statement because he was saying that the water project was too big to be accommodated in the current budget and that Mr Lebobo should wait for the next budget.
He said in the statements he made in reference to the media, Mr Reddy was advising people that if they had any grievances they had to take it up with Government rather than complaining to the media, which was not the right channel to follow.
Mr Sharma submitted that the case be put to rest.
Justice Perera is expected to deliver his judgment on June 22, 2018.