By VICTOR LAL
The newly elected Vice-President of the proposed Fiji First Party Bijai Prasad came to my attention in 2008 when I was searching for the source of convicted FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry's millions in his secret Sydney bank account.
On 10 February 2008, I wrote to one of FLP lawyers who seemed to have fallen out with Chaudhry: "Is this chap of any interest to us?" And attached the falling news story:
The presence of Fiji Labour Party politicians in the interim Cabinet will result in the demise of the party, outgoing Nadi branch president Bijay Prasad said. Prasad made the comments at his farewell event last night held in the West after holding the position for the past ten years.He said he stepped down from the position for a mistake he made at the party's national council meeting held in Ba where he supported the motion allowing members to join the interim regime.
"We were vigorously campaigning to gain support of our indigenous brothers and sisters," Prasad said. "With the suspension of the GCC (Great Council of Chiefs), reduction of the Ministry of Fijian Affairs to a department of Fijian Affairs, and the overhauling of the NLTB (Native Land Trust Board) with concurrence of our members in the Cabinet, any hope of winning the indigenous support has evaporated in thin air," he said. He added the party's participation in the current regime had widened the racial gap.
"What in fact we are doing is allowing Mr Qarase (Laisenia) or any other leader of the SDL party to win more than 50 seats in the future general election." Prasad said a lot had happened within the party with some decisions made nearly costing the unity and solidarity of the party. "Sometimes, we made a decision then regretted later, like joining the multi-party cabinet without establishing the ground rules, a mistake that could have badly split the party. We were saved by the December 2006 coup," he said.
In response, Chaudhry said the party's involvement in the interim regime was not because it supported nor condoned the coup. He added FLP's involvement with the military regime had been decided at the party's national meeting – to assist in the return of the country to parliamentary democracy.
The FLP lawyer replied as follows: "Be very careful of Bijay Prasad. He loves himself. He fell out with Daaku when Daaku did not assist him with a land sub-division he was doing in Nadi. He is upset too with Junior who collected money from him and did not deliver the goods. He at one time post -coup had moved against Daaku for the above reasons then went back but when Daaku moved against him he is now berating Daaku. We can use him though for what ever reasons. He used to be the anchor man fro [for] Daaku in Nadi."
Now, six years later, in 2014, Chaudhry claims that Prasad was not removed but left the party after he did not get assistance relating to his land deals, an allegation which Prasad denies.
Prasad remained of interest to us, as former Fiji Sun publisher Russell Hunter replied to me on 10 February 2008: "Bijay Prasad could certainly be of interest. He quit the FLP (I think) over it's membership of the IG. He's very vocal against the daaku...I don't know this fellow. But I'm routinely careful with all of them."
The FLP lawyer had claimed that Mahendra Chaudhry had "swindled the [Nadi] branch of $25,000 they had collected in lottery tickets before the 2006 elections", an allegation we had not followed it up with Prasad. Oddly, we had never come around to contacting Prasad for our conduit to him was the FLP lawyer.
Four days later, on 16 February, the same FLP lawyer who was helping us to locate Chaudhry's millions told us that he had asked Prasad to ask questions at the FLP National Council meeting: "Daaku misleads Fiji Parliament ought to be your next article. The ppressure needs to be on. I haven't had feed-back of the National Council meeting but I had asked Bijay Prasad to ask questions. I am hoping the donors from abroad will now disclose what they gave to Daaku and when?"
The FLP lawyer expressed his doubts about the source of the money: "I am sure that the money did not come from Chuatala [Chautala]. The GOI [Government of India] had to use cover to send the money and the [Indo-Fiji] Friendship Society was a cover for it. Besides in the short space of time the Society could not have collected as much in India. I believe the letter [Harbhajan Lal] letter was done post facto to give some evidence to FIRca and nothing else. Bijay Prasad went to the meeting today and said his piece about Daaku resigning. He did it for other reasons. He says none of the FLP delegates have the courage 2 discuss or even refer to the FS [Fiji Sun] article. The delegates will talk when Daaku is not there. So much for courage. But he did say that there is a mood of defeat in the FLP. Daaku looked sombre and withdrawn."
As readers will recall, I had published a series of articles claiming that an Interim Cabinet Minister had evaded taxes but did not name Chaudhry nor disclosed that he was hiding $2million in his Sydney bank accounnt.
On 17 February, the FLP lawyer managed to get Prasad talking: "Well... the story is out. Have feedback of disbelief from people. Now they know its Daaku. M trying to get Bijay to comment on the story. thsi [this] will be from the FLP junta view-point. Lets see how it develops. Good work."
And then the stinger: "After much persuation Bijay Prasad has been on Tv and asked the FLP to clarify if it is a FLP minister that is implicated in the tax evasion row. There was no comment from the President or anybody. Silence...that is part of Daaku strategy. I hope you have follow up articles so the the fire is still burning. Daaku would like the thing to go away of course. Are you and the FS naming him on Tuesday. At least he will tehn [then] have to comment on it."
But who did the secret millions belong to? Again, the FLP lawyer had this to say on 17 February 2008: "I have read your article. I believe that essentially the object was to show Daaku for what he is..Daaku. The second object in my mind is to restore the money to whom it belongs, the ordinary junta of Fj[Fiji] thru the FLP. At the time he was FLP and still is. He collected money as FLP deposed PM. He undertook everywhere to help the community. He also told Firca when it came to avoiding paying tax that he was holding the money on behalf of the community. I believe you should make a strong point that the the funds are and were intended for the community. It ought to be returned to the community with perhaps a trust formed to help the children of farmers or the underpriveleged. This could be a fund for their education or other essential needs. Not for his daughter who is married to a guy earning well over $250k on au scale in Fj. That I believe will be ultimate justice."
I replied as follows: "He was hiding $2,684,130.76 for the last eight years into his private bank account - and was using daaku junior's Sydney address for correspondence....of this $2,084,031.22 came from Haryana - the story on that angle will nail him - re letter and his statement in Parlt etc - the question is where did he get the other $600,099.54 pence from - of course the piece I sent you on the investments, he made $250,000 out of it - but still $350,000 remains unaccounted for - he can argue shout threaten us until the Haryana cows come home but it still remains that he milked them to the last cent and has been enjoying on the loot!!!!! The only fear is what if daaku runs to the High Court after Q's press release and obtains an ex parte injunction from...(comments witheld).
The FLP lawyer's patience was stretching to breaking point, as he enquired on 18 February: "What's the latest? silence from Daaku and Firca is strange and irritating. I wonder what tactics he is employing now? Court tomorow after he is named?" I replied saying immense pressure and threat was now being put on Russell Hunter and our Deep Throats have advised Hunter to go into hiding for a few days as we prepare to drop the bombshell of Chaudhry's secret millions: "Jitoko now says he is not going to comment because he cant comment on private taxpayers - the reason is different - when daaku is reading the letters he wrote, figures etc he knows they are all true - what tactics - they are terrorizing RH: "I've just been advised to be urgently out of town for a few days by a DT. I'm on my way right now."
On 19 February 2008 I informed the FLP lawyer that Chaudhry has denied receciving any money from India, and cited the following article: 'I have nothing to hide' – Chaudhry Wednesday, February 20, 2008: Fiji Labour Party leader and Interim Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry reiterated that he has nothing to hide. He was referring to calls by former Labour Party Nadi branch Bijai Prasad for Chaudhry to come clean on the money he collected from Fiji-Indian communities overseas after the 2000 coup. Chaudhry says Prasad should examine his own financial records. "It is amazing after eight years after Mr Prasad being kicked out of the party now raising these stories. If there was any truth I the matter why didn't he raise this in the last eight years? But I'm not bothered the least as I said Mr. Prasad should examine his own record in financial matters," he said.
The FLP lawyer could not believe the lie: "Where did he say thsi?/ Thsi[this] guy is shameless. I think we will have to put the allegations to him. Now that he has responded isn't it possible tp put the whole lot of your allegations to him?" I replied: "Somebody sent it to me - saying it was on fijivillage.com - he must be thick not to realize that his file is out - unless he has gone made [mad], besides being shameless." The FLP lawyer seemed exasperated with those who came out to defend Chaudhry: "The quality of pple who are defending him is amusing like Divend sharma. I am not too impressed with _____ statement in the Sun. Daaku is good in confusing the issues and very shortly he will be attacking _____as a diversion from the central issues. What abt yr NGO story. These will keep the issues focused. Daaku must have a counter-plan and he will activate it shortly..."
On the same day, 19 February, I replied at length: "Yes, I couldnt make out what _____was really trying to get out to the public. I am sure daaku is convinced that F [Frank] will come to his rescue - his file tells a different story - the more i read that letter the more i am convinced that it is a stich up - daaku was taken to task in May- he only gave the letter in late september - again, how could this guy say you are enquiring about the funds and than gives the figures and years it was put into his account - hei - it doesnt take a feverish mind to figure it out - from daaku's bank statements to firca he was acutely aware of the deposits - i will be puncturing his letter - no wonder firca wanted more substantive evidence - when he went for interview he claimed it was held in trust - some smart coolie brother was clever than him and asked him to produce the trust deed - he couldnt - so asked for time and began the delaying tactic until he was able to get hold of this bigger daaku in haryana - it will make daaku look like a fool - and his outright lie to parliament - as i pointed out - the moment the second instalment came - he immediately withdrew $800,00 the next day - we lose the trail of that money - its now where to be seen - it must have gone into investments etc"
By 20th Febraury Fiji was gripped with "Who is the Interim Minister and the FLP lawyer joined the thirsty readers: "My usual news stand did not have the Sun this morning. I was told it sells very fast these days. Has FS recorded an upsurge. That will be good for the paper..."
NOTE: "Daaku" meaning crook in Fiji Hindi was the code name my source inside FIRCA had asked me to use in all our communications regarding Chaudhry's tax records.
TO BE CONTINUED