July 31, 2012

Fiji court annuls charges against Mahendra Chaudhry

Melbourne, July 25, 2012

First Published: 16:22 IST(25/7/2012)
Last Updated: 16:30 IST(25/7/2012)

A Fiji court has thrown out money laundering charges against former Indian-origin premier Mahendra Chaudhry, who was ousted in a 2000 military coup, but he will still face trial on allegations that he violated foreign exchange laws.

Chaudhry, who became the first ethnic Indian to become Fiji's Prime Minister in 1999, will now only face three counts of breach of the foreign exchange control law, reports from Fiji said.

Justice Daniel Goundar of the high court also set a pre-trial conference for August 13. Chaudhry has reportedly pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Chaudhry faced 12 charges for allegedly giving false information to tax authorities about his bank accounts in Australia.

The high court accepted the argument by Chaudhry's lawyer that it did not have jurisdiction over the foreign accounts, and annulled five charges of money laundering, a report on Fijivillage.com said.

Another four counts of making false tax returns were dropped as the three-year time limit for prosecution had expired. After 2007, the offence of making a false tax return under the Income Tax Act was time barred.

This leaves three counts of foreign exchange violation against Chaudhry. The breach of foreign exchange charges stem from his alleged failure to declare his accounts to the Reserve Bank of Fiji.

The leader of the Fiji Labour Party defeated long-time leader Sitiveni Rabuka in 1999 to become Fiji's first ethnic Indian Prime Minister. But, a year later, he and was taken hostage along with his cabinet in a military coup.

He was released after 56 days in captivity during which he and his cabinet were sacked.

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