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May 27, 2017

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Ex-Fiji PM guilty on tax charges, out of polls

SUVA, Fiji -- The leader of one of Fiji's main opposition parties, former prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry, was convicted on tax charges Friday, ruling him out of this year's election in the coup-plagued Pacific nation.

Chaudhry, who became Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister in 1999 but was ousted in a coup a year later, was found guilty on three counts of giving false information to tax authorities about bank accounts in Australia.

The conviction means the Fiji Labor Party leader cannot run in Fiji's general election in September, the first to be held in the country since acting prime minister Frank Bainimarama seized power in a bloodless coup in 2006.

Under Fiji's constitution, anyone who has been convicted of a criminal offense in the past eight years cannot stand in the election.

Another former prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, is also out of the running after he was found guilty of corruption charges in 2012.

After that case, Amnesty International accused the Bainimarama regime of using politically motivated charges to silence its critics.

High Court judge Paul Madigan declared Chaudhry guilty and released him on bail ahead of sentencing on May 1.

"I find beyond reasonable doubt that you are in breach of ... the Exchange Act and I find you guilty of each count," he said.

Neither Chaudhry nor the Fiji Labor Party could be contacted for comment.

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