AN Estonian national charged with obstructing to defeat the cause of justice by aiding the escape of a former senior military officer is now a free man.
Risto Harmat pleaded not guilty to assisting Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara (Roko Ului) escape to Tonga on May 9 last year.
The Suva Magistrates Court acquitted Mr Harmat yesterday following a no-case-to-answer submission by his lawyer, Gavin O'Driscoll.
Delivering the ruling, Magistrate Mohammed Saneem said he found that the prosecution failed to establish essential elements of the offence.
He said the circumstantial evidence in the case was more focused on proving the escape of Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara.
"There is no evidence that would show collusion neither has the motive been established," Mr Saneem said.
Mr Saneem said that in Mr Harmat's caution interview, he said it was a normal fishing trip and they had caught some fish.
"The prosecution witnesses also confirm that Mr Harmat's boat was seen trawling on May 9, 2011," he said.
Mr Saneem also revealed that no evidence had been produced of any reward or benefits the accused was given to transport Ratu Tevita Mara.
He said he upheld the no-case-to-answer submission by the defence, dismissed the case and acquitted Mr Harmat.
"From the evidence led by the prosecution, I am unable to infer that Mr Harmat intended to obstruct, prevent or defeat the course of justice," Mr Saneem said.
"This element has not been proven by the prosecution," he said.
He also ordered that after the expiration of the necessary appeal period, Mr Harmat's passport be released to him together with any bail bond paid to the court.
Mr Harmat's lawyer Mr O'Driscoll had said that Mr Harmat went for a fishing trip only and was not aware that Ratu Tevita Mara would not return with him.
"Mara had requested to be dropped off at the beach and that it is not an offence to drop someone within Fiji's jurisdiction."
He also said that there was no evidence that Mr Harmat received any compensation.