Former Fijian Military Commander Pleads Not Guilty

admin's picture

Pita Driti says he has been set up in conspiracy to topple regime

By Talebula Kate

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Sun, Nov. 21, 2013) – Former Fiji Land Force Commander, Pita Driti, claimed in his interview by Police that he was set up by senior military officers to overthrow the Government, the High Court was told.

His caution interview statement was read out by the fourth prosecution witness, Special Sergeant Mereani Tamani, on the second day of his trial yesterday in Suva on charges of inciting mutiny and seditious comments. Driti has pleaded not guilty.

Defence allegations

According to the interview record he accused Brigadier-General Mohammed Aziz as the initiator of the whole conspiracy to topple the Government; Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara was merely a messenger for Brigadier-General Aziz.

He claimed that Brigadier-General Aziz had set him up when he had gone before him to the Commander of the Republic of the Fiji Military Forces, the Police record said.

He also claimed that there were some young officers who were striving to get higher posts within the military for their own advantage.

He denied the allegations against him and five others of planning, making, printing and distribution of a decree to overthrow the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

He said he was very surprised as the allegation was very shallow.

He then said that he was told to hand his resignation letter at the end of his leave while Brigadier-General Aziz was still at work, the record said.

The court also heard of five options he said that could have been taken against the Government, according to the Police record on interview.

The first option was to overthrow the Government, second was to brief the PM of some dealings related to the Attorney-General, the third was to sit back and wait for the Government to collapse and then come in, the fourth was to ask to have the AG removed and the last was for the military to carry out an independent investigation on matters in relation to the AG.

He said the discussions on the plans were still in their early stages and the last option would require a lot of planning. He claimed that he had received documents from the intelligence service verifying some of the practices of the A-G, the record said.

He said the investigation had to be independent because of the corruption allegations and the portfolios being held by the AG. He claimed the options were never documented and that Brigadier-General Aziz had told them that the national economy would collapse by January or February 2012, according to the record.

Denial of claims

He denied the allegations by Lieutenant-Colonel Tagicakibau that he said the Commander had lost the anointment from God based on advice from prayer groups and that he and Brigadier-General Aziz would then go to the President and seek the dissolution of the current administration. He also denied that they would then inform the Immigration Department that the Commander’s passport was invalid and he had been exiled from Fiji. The court also heard his denial that the Great Council of Chiefs and the Methodist Church would be called into the barracks and the military would apologise to them after the planned dissolution, according to the Police record.

He mentioned his conversation with Lieutenant-Colonel Tagicakibau was that his only disappointment was not about the current Government but about the AG. An intelligence surveillance cell was to be set up to monitor the movements of the AG.

He denied that there were discussions of a new Cabinet and there was never a thought of anyone at that particular time for the post of the interim PM.

According to the Police record of interview, he said on October 24, 2010 Brigadier-General Aziz had told them to move ahead with the planned takeover and that they had to do it.

When he knew that he had been set up, he then sent a text message to Brigadier-General Aziz saying "you used me up and you are going to pay for this." Brigadier-General Aziz did not reply to the text message, according to his Police record of interview.

Prosecution

Warrant Officer Tevita Korovou said that he had come across the coups in 1987, 2000 and 2006 and it was clear that the path being taken by Driti would have led to another coup.

WO Korovou, who heads a 26-member Unarmed Combat Martial Arts unit in the army, said he did not agree with Driti’s plans because he did not want any more bloodshed in the military camp.

When examined by lead counsel of the prosecution, Audrey Campbell-Moffat, WO Korovou confirmed that Driti had called him in for a meeting in September 2010 when Driti was still the Land Force Commander.

He said he could not believe what Driti told him in his office, and Korovou said he rejected Driti’s idea as he only wanted to use him and the platoon.

WO Korovou revealed that Driti told him that he did not agree with the Government because the Commander, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama always listened to the AG and did not listen to the military council.

WO Korovou said Driti told him that he was concerned as his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Ratu Tevita Mara was sent on leave by the Commander.

During the cross- examination by defence counsel, Filimoni Vosarogo, Korovou said he directly reported to the RFMF Commander and his unit was not part of the military structure.

Mr Vosarogo then put it to WO Korovou that Driti did not say those things to him but he maintained that Driti said those things to him.

Mr Vosarogo also asked WO Korovou to confirm if Driti had asked him whether Mara wanted to use WO Korovou and his platoon. He replied that he never spoke to Mara about this issue.

He also stated that all the conversations he had with Driti were noted down in his report book.

He said the reports and achievements of the unit were reported every six months to the Commander RFMF, Police Commissioner, Corrections Commissioner and Navy Commander.

Prosecutions

Fred Driver, who used to be an intelligence officer with the RFMF from 2000-2009, said his meeting with Driti was in regards to the allegiance of the army.

The meet was arranged by Ben Padarath who is the nephew of Driti.

Mr Driver, who now works with FICAC, said Driti had asked him where the allegiance of the RFMF was.

He then told Driti that he did not know as he was with FICAC.

Mr Driver said that Driti then asked him to get the salary details of the PM and A-G from Nur Bano Ali’s office.

He replied he could not get the information as he was with FICAC.

During the cross examination by Vosarogo, Mr Driver maintained that Driti did not ask him about RFMF’s allegiance and not on where the military intelligence was focused on.

He said when he went back after meeting Driti, he spoke to the Deputy Commissioner of FICAC who then advised him to call Lieutenant-Colonel Jone Kalouniwai.

He then called the head of the military’s intelligence unit, Lieutenant-Colonel Kalouniwai and informed him about the meeting with Driti. Mr Driver made it clear that Driti wanted to know where the RFMF’s allegiance lay and about the salary details of the PM and the AG.

Prosecution

The former personal staff officer for Driti told the court that Driti had conveyed to him verbally that there was a plan for the removal of the RFMF Commander.

Captain Atunaisa Vakatale said Driti spoke to him when he went to take his belongings from QEB after he was sent on leave in October 2010.

He also revealed a plan to approach the President to dissolve the Commodore Bainimarama- led cabinet.

Driti said the plan was taken to him by Mara after discussions with Brigadier- General Aziz, he said.

Captain Vakatale also said that Driti told him that Brigadier-General Aziz came to Driti’s office to discuss the plan.

Captain Vakatale recalled the day Brigadier-General Aziz came for the meeting with Driti, however, he was not in the same room where the meeting took place.

He further said that Driti was not the same type of person when Captain Vakatale returned from Iraq in 2010 to take up the position of Personal Staff Officer for Driti.

"He was not the same, based on the disagreeing remarks he makes when the A-G makes a comment," Captain Vakatale said.

During cross-examine by Mr Vosarogo, it was alleged the plan originated after discussions by Brigadier-General Aziz and Mara before it was taken to Driti.

Captain Vakatale said Driti was sent on leave because of the allegations on the removal of the PM.

The trial continues today.

Rate this article: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Add new comment