TEARS flowed as All Nations Christian Fellowship church leader Epeli Ratabacaca was sentenced to two years imprisonment yesterday.
Ratabacaca was found guilty by Justice Paul Madigan of one count of sexual assault against one of his church members at the High Court in Suva.
As he was led away to the Suva Corrections Centre in a police vehicle, his supporters gathered at the entrance of the courtroom and in front of the police remand cell block, wept and waved goodbye.
His wife and children left the courtroom after Justice Madigan handed down his sentence and could not hold back their tears as they sat in their car.
Ratabacaca was found guilty by the court of sexually assaulting a woman at a spa in Suva on June 22, 2011.
The victim, a married woman with four children, was escorted out of the courtroom with her husband by a team of police officers and driven away in a police vehicle.
Justice Madigan said Ratabacaca had breached the trust of the woman but took into account his community work when sentencing him. His term was reduced from four to two years.
"Your mitigation nevertheless does entitle you to some discount in your sentence. You have a clear record and you have in earlier days served your country well and in these days you serve your followers and your village in Tailevu," Justice Madigan said.
Ratabacaca was initially charged with one count of sexual assault and two counts of rape. Two of the three assessors found him guilty on one count of sexual assault and all three assessors found him not guilty of rape.
Justice Madigan said "in treating the lady in this manner you were in gross breach of trust. She trusted you as a pastor and counsellor to help her alleviate her post natal symptoms of anxiety and depression".
Justice Madigan told the court that the woman claims to be emotionally disturbed as a result of the offence and has difficulty in any social interaction with others.
"She has trouble sleeping and gets frustrated," he said. "In this case the lady victim was particularly vulnerable being mentally unstable after the birth of her fourth child and the pastor had gone to some lengths to engineer her presence with him alone in the steam room, and environment that she was totally unfamiliar with," Justice Madigan said.
It was established during the trial that the woman was treated for depression at the St Giles Hospital.
Ratabacaca is only eligible for parole after serving a minimum term of 15 months imprisonment.