FIJI’S GEORGE SPEIGHT AGAIN IN CONTROL AS COURT CASE FLOUNDERS

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FIJI’S GEORGE SPEIGHT AGAIN IN CONTROL AS COURT CASE FLOUNDERS

By Michael Field

SUVA, Fiji Islands (June 5, 2001 – Agence France-Presse)---George Speight, Fiji’s coup plotter who held his nation’s government at gunpoint for 56 days, was finally able to speak in public Tuesday and in the process revealed himself as a man arrogantly unrepentant and able, even from a courtroom dock, to effortlessly control proceedings.

Failed businessman Speight and 12 others, including his brother Jim, are facing treason charges related to the May 19, 2000 coup which saw them bring down the government of ethnic Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, holding him and other politicians hostage in Parliament.

When Speight held Parliament last year he was known for his long ranting press conferences, a master of procrastination and before Chief Magistrate Sailesi Temo he did it again.

Temo is conducting the "preliminary inquiry" to determine whether there is enough evidence for a High Court trial.

With the case long threatening to fall over, both Australia and New Zealand have poured in money and resources to help, including a full team of court transcribers and prosecution lawyers.

Inquiries are held in open court but cannot be reported locally.

Court sources told AFP that Speight wants to run in the general elections due in late August and is anxious for publicity from the inquiry.

The accused traitors have been held on Nukulau Island near here since their arrest on July 27 and face a single charge each of treason that lists 13 "overt acts."

They arrived in Suva by naval patrol boat earlier Tuesday, looking tanned, fit and, in the case of the once overweight coup spokesman Jo Nata, slimmed down.

Security around the court was notably slack and Speight was able to wander around the court, at times sitting with his girlfriend. He tried to engage reporters with the same banter he used in the besieged Parliament last year. Star-struck policemen shake his hands.

He shows no remorse, no regrets. He demanded that he have the rights due him in the constitution he overthrew, although he could not bring himself to say constitution, rather "the blue document over which there has been much controversy."

Until now Speight has not spoken in court, leaving it to Fijian lawyer Matebalavu Rabo who the two Speights fired.

Last week Temo adjourned the court for a week saying that Speight had to find a lawyer and if he did not, then he would have to represent himself. Temo was adamant that the case had to go on this Tuesday.

He quickly yielded to Speight who told him his family had found a lawyer in the U.S. He did not want to name him: "Do I have to?" he asked Temo.

When told he did he said it was a Naidu from the U.S. Later he told a reporter it was Navin Naidu, although he is not known here. He appears to have dumped his indigenous Fijian lawyer for a person of presumed Asian origin.

Temo did not ask for any details about the new lawyer and seemed unfazed by the otherwise obvious fact that U.S. lawyers cannot practice in Fiji’s courts automatically and have to go through a bar admission process which could take time.

Temo went along with Speight and adjourned the hearing for a week, but as was standard with Speight last year, he was unwilling to settle for just small victories.

He wanted to get off Nukulau.

"We have great difficulties being out on Nukulau," he complained.

"I don’t get access to a telephone… despite what the media says."

Jim Speight, best known for the way he roamed masked and armed around Parliament indicated puzzlement that Australia is not helping him. Fijian born, and acting for what he said was the Fijian indigenous cause, now appears to believed his Australian citizenship gives him special protection.

He said the Australian High Commission had only spoken with him twice.

"I don’t know what the story is with the Australian Embassy."

No Australian consular representative was in court this week, suggesting Canberra has decided it has done enough for the junior Speight.

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: http://www.afp.com/english/ 

 

FIJI’S SPEIGHT HIRES U.S. LAWYER, TREASON TRIAL ADJOURNED

SUVA, Fiji Islands (June 5, 2001 – Radio Australia)--Indigenous Fijian coup leader George Speight has again stalled his treason trial by announcing that he has hired a new lawyer, Navin Naidu, an ethnic Indian from the United States, to defend him.

Speight faces treason charges relating to last year's attack on Parliament, which ousted Indo-Fijian-Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.

The Magistrates Court in Suva was due to begin preliminary hearings after deferring them for a week because Speight fired his Fiji lawyer. Speight, addressing the court, said his new U.S. lawyer had not yet arrived.

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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