Former Fiji PM faces 12 criminal charges

AUCKLAND: The former Fijian prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry has been charged with a dozen crimes relating to money laundering and tax evasion.Mr Chaudhry, who was held hostage for 56 days before being deposed as Fiji’s leader in a nationalist coup in 2000, appeared in court yesterday, charged with 12 offences, a Fiji police spokeswoman, Ema Mua, said.It is alleged he held up to $400,000 in a Commonwealth Bank of Australia account and $50,000 was given to his daughter in Australia without procedures being followed.The 12 charges, which date back to just after the 2000 coup, include providing false information to the Fiji Islands Revenue and Customs Authority.Mr Chaudhry appeared in Suva Magistrate’s Court, represented by his son, Rajendra Chaudhry, a lawyer. He heard the charges but was not required to enter a plea. He was released on bail and will reappear in court next Friday.”He’s to surrender his travel documents, passport and he’s to report in to the nearest police post to his home every Thursday,” Ms Mua said.Mr Chaudhry was briefly finance minister in the current military-led government of Frank Bainimarama, during which time an independent audit cleared him of any wrongdoing in relation to his overseas financial dealings.He was Fiji’s first Indian leader when he was elected prime minister in 1999 and was overthrown a year later in a coup led by George Speight. While Speight held Mr Chaudhry and his government hostage, the Fiji Military Forces took power, declared martial law and installed an interim prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, who a year later won the post in a democratic election.Mr Chaudhry was the leader of the Fiji Labour Party until 2008 and controversially backed Commodore Bainimarama’s bloodless coup against Mr Qarase in 2006.Australia has been one of the harshest critics of Fiji since Commodore Bainimarama led the coup and stalled democratic elections, which were initially promised for 2009 and have now been pushed back to 2014.Already-frosty relations between the two nations heightened this week when Australia and Fiji became embroiled in a bitter spat over whether a meeting of the Melanesian Spearhead Group should proceed in Fiji.Fiji believed the meeting would lend some credibility to its regime, while Australia thought the meeting would undermine efforts to pressure Fiji to return to democracy.The meeting went ahead. Australia and New Zealand were the only nations in the region not in attendance.Australian Associated Press, Agence France-Presse
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