Ever since his release from the clutches of George Speight and the elite Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit, Mahendra Chaudhry has maintained, without adducing any shred of evidence, that the 2000 coup was heavily financed by Indo-Fijian businessmen opposed to the socio-economic reform programmes of his People’s Coalition Government and its determination to stamp out official corruption.
A number of these firms, the Fiji Labour Party claimed, were being investigated by the Chaudhry government for over-pricing goods brought under price control, for engaging in corrupt practices, and for tax evasion.
We, in the London-based Movement for Democracy in Fiji, were supplied by the FLP with a list containing the names of about 30 prominent companies and people who allegedly financed the overthrow and subsequent imprisonment for 56 days in Parliament of Mr Chaudhry and 42 members of his government. The list was meant to guide us in drawing up “smart sanctions” and punishing some of the country’s top businesshouses, defeated politicians, transport companies, distributors, retailers, and manufacturers who had allegedly, according to the FLP, committed the heinous crime of treason by aiding or abetting Speight’s coup. The individuals were to be punished for joining the military installed Laisenia Qarase led interim government after Commodore Frank Bainimarama declared that, “Mahendra Chaudhry will no longer come back as prime minister”. President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, who drove the final nail into the coffin of the Chaudhry government, had endorsed the Cdre’s declaration by dismissing Mr Chaudhry without testing his support on the floor of the House.
The list of names of the country’s leading businessmen as being implicated in the destabilisation process that led to the coup, we were assured, was the same names that Mr Chaudhry had forwarded to the Fiji police after the coup. We were later reassured of the identities of the alleged coup financiers when we personally met Mr Chaudhry and his entourage in an upmarket London hotel where he urged us to fight for the restoration of democracy, constitutionalism, human rights, and for him to be re-appointed as the rightful prime minister of Fiji.
Meanwhile, there were repeated allegations that businessmen such as Sir James Ah Koy and Hari Punja bankrolled the 2000 Speight coup. Both Ah Koy and Punja were forced to take out full-page advertisements in the newspapers in Fiji saying they had not financed George Speight. The Punjas protested: “Like any responsible business house … Punja and Sons Ltd knows the value of stable government having barely recovered from the upheavals of May 1987, and would do nothing to jeopardise their investments.”
In June 2001, Mr Chaudhry revealed at an FLP meeting in Lautoka that a leading businessman in Fiji had stated that it would cost $1million to get rid of the Chaudhry government. Mr Chaudhry stated that after the meeting of a statutory body board, the businessman, who was not named, and two other bureaucrats, were discussing how to get rid of the Chaudhry government when the businessman stated that it would cost only $1million. Although no name was revealed, the PCG’s official website named Mr Punja. It said the two others at the discussion included Mr Qarase. It said that after this meeting, Mr Qarase had begun a scathing attack on the elected Chaudhry government through the Senate. Most of the contents of Mr Qarase’s speech were without any factual foundation. Mr Qarase was also on Mr Speight’s list of cabinet members, the website claimed.
In light of the revelations by a former CRW soldier, Salesi Tuifagalele, in the trial of Josefa Nata and Ratu Timoci Silatolu, that he was told by coup leader, Speight, that finance for the May 19, 2000 coup would be provided by two leading business houses, Mr Chaudhry again raised the issue in Parliament in 2003: “Can the honourable Minister for Home Affairs inform this august House as to the current state of investigations against the businessmen associated with these companies and indicate when these investigations will be concluded? “ Again the PCG’s official website claimed that Mr Tuifagalele’s revelations made in the treason trial had come as no surprise to Mr Chaudhry since he made his statement to the police some 27 months before but what irked him (Mr Chaudhry) was that none of the people named by him had been questioned or investigated by the police. The companies named by Mr Tuifagalele, the website claimed, were among those who were widely reported immediately after the terrorist takeover of parliament to be allegedly implicated in financing the coup. The website reminded us that the very week Mr Tuifagale made the claims, Mr Chaudhry had written to the Director of Public Prosecutions renewing his allegations against businessmen, some indigenous chiefs and politicians implicated in the 2000 coup and asking why no action was being taken against them.
In Parliament, Mr Chaudhry had strongly criticised the practice of “selective justice” that the law enforcement authorities were pursuing. “There is a lot of dissatisfaction and indeed disquiet in many quarters about the fact that there seems to be selective prosecution of people responsible for instigating and executing the terrorist takeover of Parliament on May 19th 2000,” he told Parliament. “The public needs to be assured that the rich, the influential, and the powerful in our society will not escape the long arm of the law for their involvement, in whichever way it be – whether direct or indirect – in the heinous crime of treason. The public perception is one of selecting scapegoats and punishing them while the real culprits are let off because they have the money to buy their way out of this predicament or are close to the current government.” Mr Chaudhry questioned the three-year delay in concluding investigations surrounding complicity in the 2000 coup. “We have to clean up this nation of the rogue elements, be they in this House, in any other political arena, in the Great Council of Chiefs or the military,” he said. “This nation has paid too dear a price. Innocent people have [sic] label of a country with a coup culture”. He said Fiji would not be able to eradicate that “stigma” unless it showed the world it was serious about bringing “to justice all those who were responsible for this tragic event in our nation”.
The police confirmed that 10 Indo-Fijian businessmen were under investigation. The head of the police investigation unit Assistant Superintendent of Police (now Superintendent Waisea Tabakau, who recently ordered a Fiji TV reporter and a cameraman into a police van where they were interrogated and remained at the Valelevu Police Station for a couple of hours over the Rishikul school saga), said of the Indo-Fijian businessmen: “Some helped with hard cash financing the coup, while others provided food, groceries, bedding and transport.” The allegations forced the National Federation Party, the Fiji Chamber of Commerce, including the Suva Retailers Association, to hit out at the investigations. The retailers claimed that none of their 120 members were in any way involved with the coup plotters. It also called “baseless” the statements made by the FLP that some Taukei Fijian businessmen financed the coup. The NFP stated that the FLP should report the people involved to the police.
The FLP retorted that the names of those involved had been given to the police and that the police investigations were not proceeding at a desirable pace and that Police Commissioner Isikia Savua had been frustrating the investigations. The media also called on the FLP to prove the allegations but the party accused those calling on it to prove the allegations as another clear indicator that these bodies did not want any investigation of the involvement of the businessmen. “The alliance of these interest groups to protect a segment of the business community, which is highly corrupt and which has absolute contempt for the law, reveals the extent to which it will gang up to keep the criminals from being brought to justice,” its website stated. The FLP leader Mr Chaudhry reiterated that a full list of names of people who had financed the “terrorists” was available with the police.
Meanwhile, in June 2001, the PCG’s website also accused the Gujarati business community of collecting $62,000 at a fund-raising function held at Suva’s Defence Club for a political hopeful. The PCG website claimed: “Sources reveal that tickets costing $250 per person were sold for the function. The tickets were circulated within the business community in Suva and other towns. Most of the tickets were circulated within and bought by Fiji’s Gujarati community. The Gujarati community controls a large section of the wholesale, retail and manufacturing industries. It is believed that two major ethnic Indian businessmen, one in the food business and another in the hardware business, and both alleged to have been involved in financing the terrorists, were the masterminds behind the fundraiser.” The chief was also accused of being a party to the coup. The president of the Labasa Chamber of Commerce, Shiv Lal Nagindas, also joined the FLP in claiming that some prominent Gujarati businessmen must be investigated for financing the 2000 coup. But like the Punjas, the C J Patel group also vehemently denied the allegations levelled against the company in the High Court.
It is time Mr Chaudhry, who is part of the council to build a better Fiji and to help eradicate the coup culture in the country, proved his allegations. We are tired of the likes of him and Cdre Bainimarama taking us on a cheap ride with wild claims, without providing a shred of evidence.
In particular Mr Chaudhry who seven years ago convinced us in a London hotel of his allegations against the businessmen and urged us to fight for his political rights. If he cannot prove his allegations against the businessmen, he should be thrown out of the council sitting to end the coup culture in Fiji. What are his real motives, cynics will ask, in re-igniting a spat with business tycoon Hari Punja? Is it to settle some old scores?
Dr Victor Lal
Oh and by the way, in his effort to evade the barrage of questions last night, John Sammy deliberately or undeliberately revealed that it was Chaudary that invited him over to prepare a draft charter last year.
So this National Council for Building a Better Fiji and the
People’s FLP/FMF Charter was indeed a Chaudary initiative.
Tobo tale tu o Van Damn!!!