Fiji Times Directors Dropped From Court Case

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Company itself pleads guilty to breaching media decree

By Fonua Talei

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Sun, April 30, 2013) – The charges against Fiji Times Limited’s five directors were withdrawn yesterday in the Suva Magistrates Court.

However, Fiji Times as a company pleaded guilty to a breach of Section 38 and 43 (1) of the 2010 Media Industry Development Decree.

Presiding over the case yesterday, Magistrate Sufia Hamza withdrew charges against company directors Kiritbhai Patel, Rajesh Patel, Manu Patel, Bhupendra Patel and Jinesh Patel.

Further, Magistrate Hamza issued an order for all their travelling documents to be released from the court registry including bail bond monies.

This is after the State lawyer made an application for amendment in the particulars of the charge and informed the court that the charge is now only against the company and not its directors.

Suva lawyer Devanesh Sharma appeared on behalf of the directors while Jon Apted appeared for Fiji Times.

Mr. Apted produced written authorization in court permitting him to take a plea on behalf of the company and pleaded guilty accordingly.

In mitigation, Mr. Apted referred the court to recent cases under the Commerce Commission Decree in which fines ranged from FJ$500 to FJ$1,000 [US$279 to US$558] for multiple offences even though the cited accused companies pleaded not guilty.

"The maximum fine for corporations under the Commerce Commission Decree is FJ$25,000 [US$13,963] - FJ$50,000 [US$27,926] depending on whether it is a first offence or a further offence, while the maximum fine under the Media Industry Development Decree is double that at FJ$100,000 [US$55,851]," Mr. Apted said.

He submitted that Fiji Times had pleaded guilty at the earliest available opportunity adding that the chief offender in the case was a former director whose actions were outside the company’s control.

State prosecution mentioned in court that Mahendra Patel, a company director at the time the Media Decree was enforced, went to Australia on December 18, 2011 and has been out of the country ever since for over a year and a month.

He resigned as a director on February 18 this year prior to charges being filed by the Director of Public Prosecutions on March 5, 2013.

Further, in mitigation, Mr. Apted highlighted the nature and gravity of the offence in that it was a purely regulatory offence with no criminal elements.

In closing he asked the court to impose a fine of FJ$1,000 as final sentence for the company.

The State lawyer has been given until May 6 to file written sentence submissions in response, and the case has been adjourned to May 15 for sentencing.


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