Priest in Fiji found in contempt of court

A well know priest in Fiji, Fr. Kevin Barr, had his testimony invalidated and was found in contempt of court because of remarks he made about the Government.

Barr was acting as a character witness for the former Prime Minster Mahendra Chaudhry.

Barr claimed “strong voices in the business lobby” wanted Chaudhry out of the way via the coup of May 2000 because he refused to indulge in “under the table” business dealings.

He recalled comments made by a prominent businessman in Suva (while Chaudhry was PM and Finance Minister) that Chaudhry “does not know how business is done in Fiji” and that unlike other Finance Ministers, “you could make your request, pass something under the table and get what you wanted, but this Chaudhry won’t take something under the table and wants everything on top of the table.”

Barr went on to question why those involved in the 2000 coup were not investigated despite calls to do so adding that it “appears to me to be an absolute lack of justice that this was never done.”

He also criticised the “number of anti-union decrees” and treatment of unionists, and the continued lobbying by employers to keep “workers wages low.”

“So, as I said above, it is in the interest of some powerful business people to have Mr Chaudhry out of the way,” Father Barr said.

Justice Peter Madigan interrupted Barr’s testimony and told him and Chaudhry’s lawyer, Matthew Hutchings, that the comments were outrageous and that it was not a court of politics.

Barr then continued with the character reference saying that Chaudhry’s record as Prime Minister and Finance Minister was outstanding.

When passing his sentence and highlighting the mitigation in the case, Justice Peter Madigan said Barr had launched into what can only be described as a political anti-government speech.

Madigan said Barr’s statement only served to “cancel the work of the rest of the character evidence.”

“More outrageously he cast disparaging remarks on the nature of these proceedings against Chaudhry by saying that it was a ‘sad attempt to discredit a great and honourable and a man of integrity for petty, vindictive reasons’.”

The Justice said in the light of this contempt of court, he gave no weight whatsoever to Barr’s testimonial.

Madigan said Chaudhry’s lawyer, Matthew Hutchings must also be seen as a party to this contempt of court “because he had a typed a copy of Father Barr’s antipathy.”

A month ago Chaudhry was found guilty of having banked almost 1.5 million US dollars outside Fiji without the consent of the Reserve Bank of Fiji

He has been given until the end of next month to pay a fine of one point one million US dollars or he will be jailed for 15 months.


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News category: Asia Pacific.

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