Twenty years after the 2000 coup which deposed the Labour-led government of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry on 19 May 2000, a lot of questions still remain unanswered, and the real conspirators have yet to be brought to justice.
Also at large are the rich financiers of the coup – the businessmen who wanted Chaudhry out because they could not corrupt him. The coup conspirators had a lot of money to throw around. They offered huge sums of money to buy support, even to CRW soldiers. Where did the money come from? Speight was a bankrupt businessman.
According to Lt-Col Viliame Seruvakula, commander of the Third Battalion Fiji Infantry (in interviews to the Fiji media) some CRW soldiers were offered $50,000 each to remove the Chaudhry government. He himself was offered a vast sum of money to join the rebels.
It is well acknowledged that George Speight, now serving a life sentence for the treasonous crime, was just the fall guy. He was brazen, or stupid, enough to lead the brigade into Parliament, so to speak, but the so-called ‘shadowy figures’ behind the coup remain at large.
RFMF’s Director Legal Services Lt-Col Caucau told the 2001 RFMF inquiry into the involvement of CRW soldiers in the 2000 mayhem, that there were rumours of a coup in April in the course of which the Commander was to be overthrown. He said his source was extremely accurate because the coup occurred a month later.
Pressed to name his source, he retorted: “I am willing to reveal the source. But I am afraid you guys will fall off your chair”.
His parting shot to the members of the Inquiry: “I think there are some bigger fishes to fry than the guys in Nukulau”.
Years later in an interview with FBC, PM Bainimarama named a high ranking former Army officer and the late Nationalist leader Iliesa Duvuloco as the two men who were “calling the shots” behind Speight.
Public Prosecutor, Australian Peter Ridgway who spearheaded the prosecution of the men held in Nukulau facing treason charges, also believed Duvuloco was the master mind behind the coup.
Ridgway’s contract was not renewed by the Qarase government when it expired in May 2005 and he was given 24 hours to leave the country on 22 June. Mr Ridgway was getting too uncomfortably close to the truth when he started investigating close links between some members of the SDL government and the 2000 coup.
There is no doubt that some prominent politicians and businessmen were behind the 2000 coup.
We turn once again to Lt-Col Seruvakula: “The coup plotters were of all races. It had nothing to do with Fijian unity or anything like that. The people were misled and were taken for a ride. Fijian chiefs need to be more responsible and some chiefs’ credibility is questionable.
“”There were a few politicians and businessmen. Our assessment is that they are mainly people who owe millions of dollars to the banks and individuals who haven’t been paying taxes for the last 3-6 years.
“I think the IRD (Inland Revenue Department) is owed some $96m in taxes and the Asset Management Bank is owed $210m.”
Lt-Col Seruvakula believed there were as many as 7 major conspirators. “One of them is a Bible basher and continues to be. It makes you sick to the gut.”
It is obvious that the 2000 coup had nothing to do with the rights of the indigenous people. That was just the front used to justify the removal of a popular, incorruptible, democratically elected government.
On taking office, the Prime Minister moved fast to carry out his election promises: bringing in a number of social and economic reforms to alleviate poverty and help the needy: removed VAT and reduced Customs Duty on essential food items, cut Housing Authority interest rates from 11% to 6% for low income workers, introduced the Student Loan Scheme to enable poor students to access tertiary education etc etc.
Economic growth was an unprecedented 9.6% in one short year with all sectors performing above par. Business and investor confidence was at an all-time high with more than $400m dollars worth of tourism projects on the drawing board, waiting to take off at the time of the coup.
Of the 18 Cabinet Ministers, 12 were indigenous Fijians holding key portfolios. As were both his Deputy Prime Ministers: Adi Kuini Speed and Dr. Tupeni Baba. There was absolutely no justification for the propaganda that he was undermining indigenous rights.
Speight’s participation in the coup was motivated by mahogany interests … he and a few others were determined to lay their hands on the millions envisaged from mahogany – by hook or by crook.
Indeed, even the 1987 coup had nothing to do with indigenous rights. Both the coups were the work of an oligarchy of failed politicians, corrupt businessmen and opportunists using misguided ethno-nationalists and elements in the Army to carry out their treasonous acts.
Lt-Col Seruvakula warned: “Unless we put these guys away, they might come back and haunt us again.”
But how do you put them away when they grant themselves immunity from prosecution, written into the country’s Constitution – a nod for yet another coup in the future?