FORMER prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry was convicted yesterday by the High Court in Suva of breaching the Exchange Control Act.
Justice Paul Madigan reconvened court three hours after the four assessors had unanimously found Chaudhry guilty on three counts.
In an almost packed courtroom, Justice Madigan, in his judgment, said the offence was one of strict liability and all the elements of the offence were proven in the admitted facts.
Under the Exchange Control Act, Fiji residents have to declare to the Reserve Bank of Fiji foreign currency held in overseas banks or bring the money back to Fiji where it can be held in local banks authorised by RBF to deal with foreign currency. Also under the Act, Chaudhry faces a maximum jail time of two years and or a fine of three times the value of what has been kept in the banks abroad.
The conviction also means Chaudhry is no longer eligible to be a candidate for the 2014 election as provided in the Constitution and the Electoral Decree 2014.
Section 56(2)(g) of the Constitution and Section 23(4)(g) of the Electoral Decree state that a person is eligible to be nominated as a candidate for election to parliament only if the person has not, at any time during the eight years before being nominated, been convicted of any offence under any law for which the maximum penalty is a term of imprisonment of 12 months or more.
Justice Madigan said Chaudhry never denied that he was a Fiji resident, that he did have foreign currency in banks abroad, that the money was held by an overseas bank that was not authorised by the RBF to do so, and that he allowed the investment of his money without the approval of the RBF.
He said Chaudhry was made aware of the law by a letter from RBF solicitors in November 2009 but there was no attempt to repatriate the money.
Justice Madigan said he found Chaudhry guilty on all three counts.
Chaudhry was allowed bail until sentencing but has been told not to access funds abroad either directly or indirectly. He was also has been told not to travel abroad.
Defence counsel Matthew Hutchings asked the court to have mitigation and sentence submissions on May 1.
He said the defence needed time to prepare as the RBF had already given a schedule of fines to the prosecution for the offences Chaudhry had been convicted of.
He added Chaudhry was 72 years old and had a cardiac problem for which he travelled abroad regularly.
Justice Madigan said for the interest of justice, he would allow the convict time to prepare his mitigation and set May 1 for the court to hear the mitigation and sentencing submissions.