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Corrupt pair jailed

Thursday, September 18, 2008

TWO men on trial for the multi-million dollar Agriculture Ministry scam were jailed yesterday, as the judge called for changes to the maximum penalty for official corruption.

Businessman Pita Alifereti was sentenced to four years after he was found guilty on three counts of official corruption.

Civil servant Pelia Kete Doviyaroi was jailed for three years.

High Court judge Justice Isikeli Mataitoga said the sentence reflected public interest demand and the sentences must address the need for deterrence.

"Those involved in this type of offending betray public trust and their acts erode public confidence in our government institutions," he said. "These are serious crimes, it is needful that potential offenders and the public at large understand that these crimes will be met with stiff penalties."

Alifereti's lawyer Semi Leweniqila requested a non-custodial sentence.

The court heard from character witnesses of the good deeds both men had done and the church work they were heavily involved in.

Hendry Rabuku, who represented Doviyaroi, said his client was remorseful.

Justice Mataitoga said the liable penalty of seven years imprisonment for official corruption under section 106 of the Penal Code Cap 17, in his view, was far too low.

"Urgent consideration should be given to increasing the liable sentence to 14 years imprisonment," he said, adding the case had shown the pervasive and extensive nature of corruption in the ministry in 2000 and 2001.

When jailing Alifereti, Justice Mataitoga started his tariff at five years.

He considered mitigating factors and Alifereti's full co-operation with the police and reduced the sentence by two years. But he said there was a deliberate and systematic scheme developed to carry out the criminal acts in this case and, in one instance, to try and cover double payments.

This, the judge said, resulted in the loss of public funds and there were no reparation.

He increased the sentence to four years.

On Doviyaroi, Justice Mataitoga started at five years and reduced it by two and a half years after considering his mitigation and young family. But he said Doviyaroi deliberately violated Government Stores regulations to ensure that quotation for goods to be supplied would go to Repina Wholesalers, which was owned by Alifereti.

* November 15, 2006 - Agriculture Ministry chief executive officer Peniasi Kunatuba is jailed for four years for abuse of office and breaching rules and procedures on the spending of public funds for personal use.

* May 29, 2007 - Five men including directors of Suncourt Hardware appear in court charged for their alleged involvement in the agriculture scam.

This case is still before the courts.

* September 26, 2007 - Agriculture Ministry principal accountant Suliasi Sorovakatini is jailed for two and a half years after pleading guilty to abuse of office.

* September 9, 2008 - Former Civil Servant Josefa Tapele is discharged of official corruption in the same offence.

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