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Army stops sale of Hughes boat

Monday, January 29, 2007

The military has moved in and stopped the possible sale of a launch owned by former Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes.

It is believed military has barred maintenance personnel allegedly hired by Mr Hughes from entering the vessel berthed at the Royal Suva Yacht Club.

The military ordered no one is to board the vessel and has prevented negotiations for its sale, pending enquires by it.

Three Australian visitors, reportedly personal friends of Mr Hughes, were prevented from boarding the Escapade for an inspection at 9.30am yesterday by a security guard at the club.

The guard then told the military of the visitors wanting to buy the vessel.

A guard at the yacht club confirmed the two men and a woman had tried to board the vessel with a club employee when he stopped them, saying he was acting on a military directive.

The guard said he became suspicious when the visitors said they were from New Zealand and he found out they were Australian nationals.

The guard told the military, which then ordered no one to enter or remove anything from the vessel.

An engineer at the club, Martin Amonaki, who has maintained the vessel for Mr Hughes for over a year, said he was frustrated at being prevented from removing anything from the vessel, including his tools.

He will seek clarification from the military today.

Mr Amonaki said he had been authorised by Mr Hughes to negotiate the vessel's sale and could not understand the military's stance on the matter.

"I feel frustrated because I had a potential buyer and because I cannot enter the launch, which still has my tool-box inside," he said.

He confirmed the visitors were friends of the former commissioner interested in buying the vessel.

Military spokesman Major Neumi Leweni said the directive barring people from the vessel was put in place when Mr Hughes fled the country while on leave last year and it was still in place. Major Leweni said the order would remain as "he is still on leave" and until the military sought clarification on the matter.

Mr Hughes could not be reached for comment yesterday. The Australian High Commission would not to comment yesterday, saying it was a consular matter that concerned a private individual.

Meanwhile, Major Leweni confirmed former SDL campaign manager and businessman, Jale Baba was again taken in for questioning by the military.

Mr Baba confirmed being taken to Queen Elizaabeth Barracks yesterday and being released several hours later although he was not subjected to any abusive treatment. It was the second time Mr Baba has been detained by the military in a week. He spent two days at QEB before being released last Friday.

The military confirmed it had questioned Baba on allegations SDL party officials rigged last year's general election, and grilled him on the sale of a State vehicle and other corruption allegations made against the party.

Mr Baba, who previously denied the allegations, was not willing to speak to the media following this latest detainment. His silence follows reports businesswoman Laisa Digitaki is now living under the protection of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights because she fears being detained again by the military

Speaking from an unknown location, Ms Digitaki said the Geneva-based body had granted her protection rights.

Ms Digitaki was one of several people abused by soldiers for making statements against the military.

Fellow activist and Pacific Centre for Public Integrity director Angie Heffernan is reportedly living in hiding and fearful for her and her children's safety after reports that she was being sought by the military.

The military have since denied they looking for the women.

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