Driti, Chaudhry Prosecution Not Political: DPP
The decision to prosecute Fiji Labour Party leader, Mahendra Chaudhry, and the former Republic of Fiji Military Forces Land Force Commander, Pita Driti, was not political. Addressing the Fiji–New Zealand Business Council Conference last Saturday at the Grand Pacific Hotel, Suva, was the Director of Public Prosecutions, Christopher Pryde.
He clarified that one factor that had absolutely no bearing on the public interest factor was whether the cases were political.
“Both the Chaudhry and Driti cases could be seen as political in a broad sense (and they were often described as such in the media) but they were only political in the sense that, in the case of Mr Chaudhry, he was a politician intending to stand in the elections and in the case of Mr Driti, that his intentions were political by wanting to subvert the government,” Mr Pryde said.
In both of these cases, he said, the first step in the process was satisfied; there was sufficient evidence touching on each element of the offence that together provided a reasonable prospect of conviction if the matter went to trial.
“The matters therefore, from an evidentiary perspective, were non-contentious; there was clear, objective evidence upon which a court properly directed could convict. The question in both cases however was one of public interest. In spite of there being sufficient evidence to convict, was it in the public interest to continue?”
He said the public interest factors in favour or against prosecution were summarised in Fiji’s Prosecution Code, which in turn is based on similar codes used throughout the common-law world.
In the Chaudhry case, he said, representations were received from Chaudhry’s lawyer and the original trial date was vacated in order to consider them.
“Ultimately, I made a decision that the factors favouring continuation of the prosecution outweighed the factors against. The same public interest test process was applied in the Driti case and both men were then committed for trial.”
Meanwhile defence lawyer, Anand Singh, has expressed strong disquiet that the DPP had chosen to make comments on the case of his client, Mahendra Chaudhry, when it was still before the courts.