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Qarase denies Fiji vote rigging claims

1400 FJT
Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Update: 2pm Ousted Fiji prime minister Laisenia Qarase has vigorously denied military claims implicating him in vote rigging, following allegations Australian conman Peter Foster was part of a sting to expose election fraud.

"There are lots of question marks surrounding the whole thing," he said when asked about Foster's allegations by Australia"s Fairfax media.

Mr Qarase, however, denies any involvement in alleged vote rigging.

"I've never been involved in anything illegal, anything deceptive my entire ... working life, 46 years," Mr Qarase told ABC Radio.

"There is absolutely no way that I will support actions that are illegal or even encourage them. That is not me."

Fairfax newspapers reported that Mr Foster, who is facing fraud charges in Fiji, was secretly used by the military to record meetings with the now ousted government ministers.

Fairfax said Mr Foster had met leading figures in Mr Qarase's Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) party, with one strategist alleged to have said the SDL focused on 10 or more critical urban seats in last year's election.

According to the military, party-friendly police officers put extra ballot papers in the boxes to secure marginal seats.

The SDL party narrowly won the election by picking up 36 of the 71 seats.

Mr Qarase also criticised the way in which the allegations had been aired, with some of the Foster tapes broadcast on Fiji One television.

He said if true, the claims should have been reported to the authorities.

"If there is an allegation of corruption it should be reported to the authorities," he said.

"That's the way things are done in other countries.

"It should be investigated by police, or an independent inquiry to be carried out by a judge, to give it the credibility that it deserves."

He also questioned Mr Foster's alleged involvement in the sting, saying he was a "master of deception".





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