|Samisoni and Williams outside court last August.|
The regime has hired one of Asia-Pacific's most expensive criminal barristers to win its case against businesswoman and former MP, Dr Mere Samisoni.
London-born Clive Grossman – both a Queen’s Counsel and Senior Counsel in Hong Kong – appeared last Friday for the prosecution, to argue before the Chief Magistrate that stay applications should only be heard in Fiji’s High Court.
Grossman’s surprise involvement came as lawyers for Dr Samisoni were appearing in front of Chief Magistrate Usaia Ratuvili’s Court seeking a stay proceeding against the single count of inciting political violence that Samisoni and two others face, and arguing the Magistrates Court had complete jurisdiction to order a permanent stay.
Samisoni’s family and supporters are astonished the military-run and increasingly impoverished Fiji government has hired Grossman to argue the fine point.
Her family say the charge against Dr Samisoni – who founded the popular 30-store Hot Bread Kitchen chain before turning to politics where she won the Lami Open seat on the outskirts of Suva for the Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua party (SDL) - is politically motivated.
In a statement they say Dr Samisoni has been a tireless and outspoken critic of the regime of military strongman Frank Bainimarama who led the December 2006 coup that unseated the SDL government.
Chief Magistrate Ratuvili has said the stay application will be reserved until August 6 when he will deliver his decision.
‘It seems absolutely incredible that the Fiji government should involve a barrister of Mr Grossman’s expense to argue this point,’ said a family statement issued on behalf of Dr Samisoni, a grandmother of twelve.
‘The prosecution’s whole conduct has been about defending the indefensible with their limitless budget and a desire to abuse the legal process to dupe, delay and deny their political opponents.’
‘Talk about using a gold-and-diamond-encrusted sledgehammer to try to crack a nut.’
Dr Samisoni was first arrested in December 2011 and charged a month later along with former SDL parliamentarian Mataiasi Ragigia, and Apete Vereti and Semisi Lasike. Ragigia died in October last year without having the chance to prove his innocence.
The statement from the Samisoni family says Grossman’s earning power as one of the pre-eminent criminal barristers of his generation stands in stark contrast with the court system in Fiji, which reflects the deteriorating state of the country’s public finances.
“By contrast in Hong Kong, renowned barristers like Grossman could charge between HK$10,000 (FJD2,500) and HK$50,000 (FJD12,000) an hour just to study documents.”
Last year Grossman represented Raymond Kwok, one of the brothers at the centre of the conspiracy and corruption charges filed against Sun Hung Kai Properties. The Hong Kong Standard reported the main lawyer to brother Thomas Kwok was retained for three years with an annual fee of HKD30 million (FJD7.4 million).
Grossman made his name helping the late Nina Wang win a legal battle for control of her late husband Teddy Wang Teh-huei's Chinachem business – after he was kidnapped in 1990 and declared legally dead in 1999. At the time of her own death in 2007, her estate was said to be worth HKD40 to 50 billion (FJD10 to 12 billion).
The Samisoni family believe Fiji’s military regime’s big splash on legal counsel like Grossman signals the prosecution’s intention to find Samisoni guilty – whatever the cost – and then demand the state’s legal fees are paid by the defendant in an attempt to financially cripple one of Fiji’s few indigenous success stories.
‘This represents an abuse of process, and an abuse of civil and political human rights,’ stated the family.
Abuse of process and human rights
Dr Samisoni’s on-going stay application before was Chief Magistrate Ratuvili has been further delayed after Defence QC Peter Williams had to argue a jurisdiction point on Friday 28 June.
Clive Grossman submitted that the practice in Fiji was for the High Court to hear stay applications, where Williams had argued that Fiji’s Magistrate Courts indeed have legal jurisdiction to hear stay applications, based on Fiji and international case law, and questioned why Fiji would be only country not to grant its Magistrates the power to order permanent stays.
Williams also made the point that the law takes precedence over an illegal custom and simply practising something did not make it lawful.
DPP asked to drop driving charge
In a separate development, dangerous driving charges against Dr Samisoni could finally be dropped after magistrate Lashika Fernando asked her lawyer Heeni Phillips to write to the Director of Public Prosecutions to obtain their consent.
Phillips contended in court on June 27 that the manner in which Dr Samisoni was arrested in August last year was both unlawful and illegal and noted that the alleged accident resulted in no damage to either of the cars involved, and questioned why it required eight policemen and three police dogs to bring her into custody.
The car following Dr Samisoni is believed to have been driven by an officer from Fiji’s anti-corruption body, FICAC.
The court was told after her arrest she was driven from one police station to another for three hours, and repeatedly questioned despite her New Zealand-based lawyer insisting police respect her right to maintain her silence.
The dangerous driving charge is due to be heard in Court on July 11.
The Samisoni family maintain the manner in which Dr Samisoni was arrested last year on 3 August was unlawful and illegal.
“The police did not give her reasons for arresting her. They could not provide reasons either to New Zealand legal counsel.
“Any female, young or old, in Suva should certainly worry about their safety if the DPP does not withdraw this charge as it certainly gives the appearance that DPP are complicit in anti-woman practices, are in favour of illegal police arrests and illegal joy riding around Suva with females who have been detained illegally.
“Prior to advancing their prosecution they should have taken into consideration Dr Samisoni’s age and the minimum standards of legal process for the police operation.
"Eight police on the back of a police truck, including three police dogs, took Dr Samisoni on a joy ride of Suva for approximately three hours before informing her she was to be charged with dangerous driving.
"The charge, too, is a fiction. The person who should have been charged was the FICAC officer who drove at high speed behind Dr Samisonis car, endangering public safety.
"He veered onto a side footpath to avoid ramming Dr Samisoni’s car and continued on at high speed. It is noted that certain "legal" people in the FICAC car have different versions of what occurred.”
Police are accused of harassing her at the police station where her mobile was also taken.
Editor's Note: In two other longstanding cases the regime has also tried to crack, it appears prosecutors are finally ready to go to trial although they've yet to make full disclosures. Both Sri Lankan businessman Jagath Karunaratne and trade unionst Daniel Urai reappeared in court last Thursday and are expected to be heading to trial in September. They are due to appear again in court today. Both are charged with urging political violence.