Suspended Fiji prosecutor Christopher Pryde calls for intervention by New Zealand government

Suspended Fiji prosecutor Christopher Pryde calls for intervention by New Zealand government

Christopher Pryde, Fiji’s Attorney General

Christopher Pryde, Fiji’s Attorney General
Photo: Delivered

Fiji’s suspended Attorney General is calling on the New Zealand government to intervene and “righten the grave injustice done to him by the Fiji government.”

Christopher Pryde, a New Zealand citizen, held the office of DPP from 2011 until his suspension in April 2023.

He continued to receive his full benefits while an investigation was conducted and a decision was made on whether President Ratu Wiliame Katonivere should convene a tribunal.

Pryde was suspended on the advice of the Katonivere Judicial Services Commission for alleged misconduct.

“You will be suspended and required to take your overdue leave of 168 days, expiring sometime in December 2023, effective immediately,” Katonivere said in a letter at the time.

In a five-page letter to Foreign Minister Winston Peters, seen by RNZ Pacific, Pryde wrote on Thursday that the action against him should “serve as a warning to other New Zealanders considering taking a job in Fiji”.

“While this matter appears to be an internal matter between the Government and myself, the decision of the Fijian Government to unilaterally reduce my salary four years into my seven-year contract has left me unable to effectively defend myself against totally unfounded allegations which have now been outstanding for 15 months and for which no hearing has yet been scheduled as required by the Fijian Constitution,” he wrote.

“It also impacts New Zealand’s Pacific Reset when people deported from New Zealand are treated in this way, by making false allegations and continually shifting the standards for dealing with those allegations.”

This is the first time Pryde has spoken out about his suspension, which came under strange circumstances.

According to then Attorney General Siromi Turaga, he had met with former Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and “spoken to him alone for approximately 30 to 45 minutes” at a public event at the Japanese Embassy in Suva.

Turaga said this amounted to misconduct.

The DPP, a constitutional office under Fiji’s 2013 Constitution, can only be removed if the court finds misconduct.

The Government of Fiji has set up a tribunal to investigate the charges on March 5, 2024, almost 12 months after his suspension, but no hearing date has yet been set.

In the letter to Peters, Pryde writes that he was informed in April this year that the tribunal’s terms of reference had been amended to include an additional charge against him for accepting pension payments that had not been approved by the Judicial Services Commission.

He said he had already corresponded with the Commission on the matter and denied any wrongdoing.

“I also pointed out that these and all other claims are examined twice a year by the government and the Auditor General and that there have never been any complaints.”

Winston Peters

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

He said that under the terms of his suspension, he would continue to receive all contractually guaranteed benefits. Although he received his salary, his pension payments were unilaterally stopped without notice.

“On 9 July 2024, I wrote to the Judicial Services Commission asking when I could expect to receive my severance pay, which was due in April 2024. As it was a contractual entitlement, I expected to receive it under the terms of my suspension and it was already three months overdue, again without notice.

“That same day, I received a letter from the President informing me that my salary and all contractual benefits would be suspended effective immediately.”

Pryde said he has not been paid a salary since Tuesday, July 9.

“…in order to defend myself against these allegations with adequate legal advice, I must rely on personal savings, have no income and no indication of when the Tribunal’s investigation will be completed and a final decision made.

“It is clear that with this latest measure of unilaterally cutting my salary, the government wants to exert unjustified pressure on me and deprive me of the opportunity to defend myself against the allegations against me.”

“The rule of law is being undermined”

He said the delay and the manner in which the matter was being handled by the Fiji Government should be of concern to the New Zealand Government.

“First, the suspension of a constitutionally appointed public official is extremely serious and therefore requires that any investigation be carried out without delay. Failure to promptly convene a tribunal and hear the matter is a violation of the rule of law.”

He said the unilateral cancellation of the salary of a constitutionally appointed public servant was a breach of Fijian labour law and a clear attempt at intimidation to pressure me into resigning.

“The suspension of my salary payments at this late stage deprives me of the opportunity to adequately defend myself against the allegations.”

He added that there are other New Zealand citizens who have taken up positions in the Fiji criminal justice system and who could potentially be negatively affected if the Fijian Government is allowed to ignore due process and the rule of law.

“The New Zealand Government is providing significant assistance to Fiji to support the rule of law, which is being undermined.

“For these reasons, I urge the New Zealand Government to urgently raise these concerns with the Fijian Government on my behalf as a New Zealand citizen.”

“I am aware that this matter may be viewed as an internal matter for the Fijian Government and I alone to resolve. However, the issues raised go beyond a purely local matter and have regional implications for the rule of law.”