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PM’s Brother-In-Law Reappointed Despite Conviction

By Michael Field

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Jan. 19, 2008) - A man just freed from serving a sentence for punching and kicking another to death has been re-appointed to command the Fiji Navy.

Commander Francis Kean, convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months jail in October 2007, is brother-in-law of military head and self appointed prime minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.

The Fiji military has denied it was nepotism.

Military spokesman Major Neumi Leweni said Commander Kean, 42, was "the right person for the right job... The re-employment of Commander Kean must not be politicized. It must be seen in the context that the abundance of talent which Commander Kean possesses can be well utilized to benefit the Republic of Fiji Military Forces and our nation."

The killing, at a Bainimarama family wedding, occurred three weeks after the commodore staged his coup. Kean was then head of the Navy.

The appointment hints at tensions within the Fiji Military Force as the current commander, John Fox, loses the job.

Bainimarama has culled a large number of officers who he perceives as disloyal.

A New Zealand judge sitting in the Fiji High Court, Gerard Winter, sentenced Commander Kean. He noted that on December 30, 2006, Samuel Whippy married Ateca Bainimarama, who is the commodore’s daughter.

At the reception at the Royal Suva Yacht Club a relative of the groom, John Whippy, was drunk. Several fights had taken place during the evening and at 2 a.m. Whippy left in a taxi.

"As John Whippy was assisted to the taxi he was in an ugly drunken mood," Justice Winter said.

Commander Kean told him to mind his language but as the taxi left Whippy kept yelling. Commander Kean demanded the taxi stop.

"(Commander Kean) then came up to John Whippy and punched him three times in the face," the judge said.

"John Whippy first hit his head against the taxi light then fell heavily to the ground on his back. While he was lying on the ground Francis Kean kicked him on the chest. The accused was dragged away by an unidentified woman but returned to kick John Whippy’s head."

Commander Kean was kept on full pay while in jail.

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