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Money for fire

Shalveen Chand
Thursday, June 19, 2014

A MILITARY officer was ordered to pay more than $190,000 by the High Court in Suva last week for a deliberate fire incident at the military married quarters in 2005.

The Republic of Fiji Military Forces took Major Mikaele Racumu and his wife Elizabeth Racumu to court after the couple refused to pay the damage and restoration of the quarters.

According to the facts provided in the judgement, on December 24 in 2005, Mrs Racumu set fire to their quarters in Nabua after a dispute with her spouse.

She had pleaded guilty to arson in May 2006 and was sentenced to 18 months suspended for two years.

According to the statement of claims by the RFMF, Mr Racumu was allocated the quarters to which he had signed a tenancy agreement on March 14, 2000.

The RFMF claimed that Mrs Racumu was liable to compensate them as she deliberately started the fire. And according to the tenancy agreement, Mr Racumu was also liable because the damage caused was not fair wear and tear.

In their defence, the Racumus said only Mr Racumu would be liable for damage under a clause in the tenancy agreement and that he wanted the clause struck out because it was oppressive and unconscionable.

The defendants said despite the guilty plea of Mrs Racumu to the charge of arson, the fire was an accident which started from a cigarette when Mrs Racumu was unconscious. Major Racumu had said the action of his wife was beyond his control.

Four prosecution witnesses who included witnesses to the fire, a military officer who did the damage assessment and a fire officer gave evidence during the trial.

One of the military witnesses, a neighbour of the Racumus, in his evidence said he saw Mrs Racumu sitting in the drive-way of the house with a bottle of wine in her hand.

In that evidence, he said Mrs Racumu told him that she burnt the house and the children were safe.

High Court judge Justice Brito Mutunayagam said it was evident that the second defendant (Mrs Racumu) willfully ignited the quarters and was liable to compensate RFMF.

"I turn to consider the case against the first defendant (Mr Racumu). The cause of action is founded on clause 10 of the tenancy agreement."

Justice Mutunayagam ordered the couple to pay the RFMF $187,921 together with interest at the rate of three per cent from December 24, 2005, to October 30, 2012, being the hearing date.

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