Fiji gripped as attorney general investigated for cold-case bomb attack

Kelvin Anthony and Ben Doherty
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA</span>
Photograph: Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA

On Tuesday, one of Fiji’s most powerful men, attorney general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, was awarded the country’s highest civilian honour, invested as a Companion of the Order of Fiji at a grand ceremony.

The previous day, he had had to present himself at a Suva police station to submit to an interview over allegations he was involved in a fatal bombing attack on political rivals more than 30 years ago.

The extraordinary case of Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum – known as “A to Z” in political circles because of the breadth of his political influence – is front-page news in Fiji, and has fuelled existing political divisions, as well as the simmering ethnic tensions between indigenous Taukei and Indo-Fijians, an underlying faultline in much of Fiji’s tumultuous political history.

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Sayed-Khaiyum is one of the most influential figures in the Fiji government, the secretary general of the ruling FijiFirst party, and widely regarded as the power behind the throne of prime minister Frank Bainimarama. Articulate and forceful, beyond attorney general he is the minister for justice, aviation, communication, climate change, economy, the public service, and anti-corruption, giving him enormous authority over government policy.

There are few across the archipelago without an opinion on Sayed-Khaiyum, or his case. His defenders dismiss the allegations as racially and politically motivated. Online, his accusers have changed their facebook profile pictures to a yellow t-shirt inscribed with words demanding justice and for him to stand down.

It is alleged Sayed-Khaiyum was involved in two bombing attacks on political rivals in Suva in the aftermath of the 1987 military coups that installed Major-General Sitiveni Rabuka’s caretaker government.

Sayed-Khaiyum has not commented on the allegations, and has declined to stand aside as attorney general while he is being investigated, saying only “we will let the due process take its course”.

In July this year, formal complaints were filed with Fiji police by Veronica Malani, 47, her father, 86-year-old former parliamentarian Ratu Filimone Ralogaivau, and brother Ratu Benedito Ralogaivau, 46, a Melbourne resident and Victoria police officer. The complaints allege Sayed-Khaiyum planted the bombs which killed one bystander, while causing “severe injuries” to Malani and her mother.

In their police statements, obtained by the Guardian, they allege Sayed-Khaiyum, then 22, was part of an Indo-Fijian pro-democracy group known as the Fiji Freedom Fighters, responsible for detonating explosives at two separate locations on 17 and 18 October in 1987.

A car drove past and threw a package down our driveway which instantly exploded

Veronica Malani, blast victim

Malani alleges her family was targeted by Sayed-Khaiyum’s “terrorist attacks” because her parliamentarian father had “switched sides”, joining Rabuka’s military caretaker government after he led a coup deposing a democratically elected Indo-Fijian majority labour government, of which he had been a member.

Ratu Benedito, then nine years old, claims that on 17 October, he was with his mother in Suva city when they were attacked while waiting for a bus.

“I observed a young male in his early 20s approach us … place a box on the ground near my mother … then walk away,” he alleged.

He claims that his mother sent him “to buy cream buns from across the bus stop” and while he was walking back to her, he saw the same man “using his right hand to throw something back at the box”.

“He then turned and ran. I saw the item thrown landed on the box and a deafening roar of an explosion ... grey smoke filled the streets.”

Ratu Benedito claims when he reached his mother “the footpath was soaked with blood”, with another man fatally hurt and his mother injured. “There were severe burns and blood pouring out of her wound,” he claimed.

A day later, on 18 October, Ratu Benedito’s mother was attacked again, this time at home, in the company of her 10-year-old daughter, Veronica Malani.

“I was standing on our driveway with my mum at our Suva home when a car drove past and threw a package down our driveway which instantly exploded,” Malani has alleged in her statement to police. “We were seriously injured and taken to hospital. My right arm, right finger, right thigh and the right side of my body were badly injured and burned.”

She claims that she witnessed “who threw the package”.

In their claims to police, Malani and Ratu Benedito state that a week after the attacks they were taken to the Totogo police station in the capital, after the criminal investigations department identified two suspects.

They allege the person they had identified at the time was Sayed-Khaiyum. “I believe Sayed-Kahiyum’s intention was to kill me and my mother,” alleges Malani.

Following the police investigation this year, a brief of evidence was sent to the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to decide whether charges would be laid against the attorney general. But the DPP, Christopher Pryde, sent the file back within a week, instructing police to conduct “further investigations”.

A police spokeswoman confirmed the investigation but said the force could not “divulge further information and are looking into the issues outlined” by the DPP.

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The allegations against Sayed-Khaiyum remain under investigation. No charges have been laid, and the allegations have not been tested in court.

The Guardian has not received a reply to detailed questions put to Sayed-Khaiyum regarding the allegations made against him, or on his refusal to step down from his government portfolios while he is under investigation.

The Guardian has also put questions about the bombing and its investigation to Bainimarama, former prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka, and to Fiji police’s acting commissioner Rusiate Tudravu. No response has been received.