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Fiji arms: an investigation into the illegal shipment of arms to Fiji which was seized in Sydney in May 1988
- Parl No.
- Citation Id
- Cover date
21 Aug. 1989
Transcript: 003363;\n Transcript: 801041
KAHAN, Mohammed - Arms smuggler
RABUKA, Brigadier Sitiveni - Minister for Home Affairs, Fiji
SING, Chief Supt Allan - Australian Federal Police
STEPHENS, Tony - Fiji businessman
KHAN, Timothy - former associate of Adnan Khashoggi
VESIKULA, Ratu Meli - former Taukei leader, Fiji
CHOTTU, Jas - Barrister
- Text online
- System Id
Fiji arms: an investigation into the illegal shipment of arms to Fiji which was seized in Sydney in May 1988
ANDREW OLLE: What do Adnan Khashoggi, Imelda Marcos and Ratu Mara have in common. Well, I am afraid the answer, the smarmy swami, merely poses another riddle, but over the next hour, all will be revealed. We've extended tonight's Four Corners to bring you a tale of international intrigue that's taken several months to unravel. The action criss crosses the globe, but Tony Jones begins his astonishing story here in Sydney.
TONY JONES: On the 24th May last year, a story of intrigue began unravelling itself here at Sydney's Port Botany. It's a story about guns, money and power in the South Pacific. In the early hours of that morning, a container on its way to strife torn Fiji was off loaded onto Australian soil. Its contents included a deadly cargo of weapons and ammunition bought on the Middle Eastern black market. Only a month earlier, another container load of arms had passed through the port unnoticed. The man behind these shipments, the now notorious Mohammed Kahan, said these were but a small part of the arms he bought and that all of them passed through Australia.
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Well, the coup was in May and the first substantial landing I think, we made is in October.
TONY JONES: The first landing of arms?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: A fairly large quantity of arms went in October. They are what we call deep down, and they are in secure hands. They are not only in the hands of Indian people but the hands of the Fijian people as well.
TONY JONES: For most Fijians, that's a chilling thought.
RATU MELI VESIKULA: If ever Kahan's arms are used in Fiji, it will cost devastation and destruction, unheard of and unseen of in Fiji.
TONY JONES: But the attitude of the Australian Government to these weapons is odd, to say the least.
LIONEL BOWEN: ... the container but I don't think it would have caused a lot of you know, damage to anybody. It seemed to be, as I understand it, a conglomerate of equipment. Certainly it was firearms and weapons of a type, but you know, it was not as though it was going to arm any battalion or anything like that.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: Assault rifle, Czech made, Europe manufacturer 68, Serial number Uniform 65319. RPG, Trycol Europe manufacturer 1986, Serial number 2825.
TONY JONES: But contrary to that information passed on to the Attorney-General by ASIO, Kahan's captured arms, now in the hands of the Australian Army, are part of a quite sophisticated arsenal. The contents of his container included 140 Czech automatic assault rifles, Chinese grenade launchers, mortars, mines, and a vast quantity of ammunition.
This grenade launcher is just a small part of Mohammed Kahan's illegal arms shipment, but these lethal weapons are what it's all about, enough guns and ammunition for a small army. They were destined for a covert operation in Fiji, an operation whose real purpose was clouded by false trails and mystery. Well, tonight we will try to shed some light on that mystery, for the story behind these weapons remains political dynamite. It haunts the future of Fiji, and as we'll see, raises some very serious questions right here in Australia.
It was called the biggest illegal arms shipment ever uncovered in this country, and the press had a field day as a profile was built up of the main villain, Mohammed Kahan. A Fijian citizen himself, but also an international criminal, a man whose been deported three times from Australia. He'd come here to oversee the shipment but given his record, how did he arrive here unnoticed, and even more embarrassing, how did he escape once the arms were discovered. He was finally tracked down to London and arrested there.
Members of Britain's Metropolitan Extradition Squad swooped on a London address and arrested Kahan. Then after eight months in prison, Kahan was free, when the Bow Street Magistrate's Court threw out an attempt by Fiji to extradite him.
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Well I am elated. For the people of Fiji, it's a victory. I suffered a lot.
TONY JONES: Kahan had flaunted international laws and got away with it. But although this well turned out arms smuggler was enjoying something of a celebrity status while we were filming, he's now back in gaol. We've been told that the new case against him is again related to arms dealing. While he was free though, Kahan was at great pains to appear every inch a political activist. It's not clear why Kahan has chosen to speak out about his operation but where possible, we've sought to corroborate his story. Where there has not been possible, the extraordinary events that surround his activities, appear to add credibility to it. Certainly, the claims he makes about the Australian end of his operation justify further investigation.
You had a person you've described to me as a link man. Can you tell me what his role was?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Well, a link man is, as the title suggests, a link man, but this particular link man obviously had a lot of connections and some substantial amount of authority, to get things done.
TONY JONES: Connections in security organisations within Australia?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Well, connections in right places, in Customs, security, you know, wherever. If ever need arises, he seems to do the magic.
TONY JONES: What were his connections, do you know? Was he connected with a particular intelligence organisation within Australia?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: I cannot categorically say which government level he was connected with but I am saying that he seems to had influence or connection in the right places to make things happen. And I was not concerned as to how he get it done as long as the job is done. If I have a problem, I tell him and his job is to get the problem solved.
TONY JONES: And this person, was he an Australian national?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Yes, he's a dinki-di Aussie, as we say it.
TONY JONES: The process of examining Kahan's story takes you back to the discovery of the arms. After a delay of several days, the container was located here on the wharves at Sydney's Darling Harbour. The Customs Service claims it was decided to inspect the container after an officer was alerted by documents showing used machinery coming from the Middle East, but according to the Federal Attorney-General, Lionel Bowen, the real story is rather different.
LIONEL BOWEN: There was apparently some Indian gentleman worrying allegedly, the Customs official, with repeated calls as to where was his container and the Customs official was that interested in the fact of the frequency of the calls, he decided to have a look in the container. When he did that, which was purely out of his curiosity, and sees what's there, he decided to ring ASIO. That's the way that matter developed.
TONY JONES: On that scenario, Customs must have known, or at least suspected some days earlier, that the man responsible for this arsenal was in the country. But when they finally opened the container and found the weapons, they failed to inform the Federal Police of this. Later that day, they recreated their dramatic find for their own publicity cameras. But first, they called in ASIO.
LIONEL BOWEN: The first thing I heard was that there had been discovery of a container which had some military equipment in it. The container was in transit, that ASIO were involved and there was a problem from the point of view of security. I can tell you that as I am responsible for ASIO, I made some inquiries and they said, oh, we were invited down to the wharf by Customs and when we looked at the issue there, which was a conglomerate of things inside a container, none of them seemed to have any co-ordination or any real intelligence from the point of view of military equipment, but there are arms or something of a nature there. It didn't really concern ASIO and Customs were telling us at the time that they had the matter under control and that they didn't want us to do anything about it - us being ASIO.
TONY JONES: That same afternoon, while the Attorney-General was being briefed by ASIO, a Financial Review journalist was also being briefed by an unknown source. Though there had still been no investigation of the people behind the arms, no attempt was made to block or delay the story and it duly appeared on Tuesday morning. So with the story now broken and out in the public, Customs decided to make a virtue out of necessity and hold a press conference to take credit for their discovery. By now though, both Customs and ASIO knew that the man they wanted was in Sydney, but we've been told by a senior federal policeman that ASIO told Customs to sit on that information and not tell anyone. Well certainly, the farcical events that follow seem to back up that notion.
Shortly after the press conference, two Customs intelligence officers, Senior Inspectors Toohey and Wulff, went to interview the shipping agent who had worked for Kahan. It was the first time he had been spoken to. They questioned the man about the previous container he had handled for Kahan a month earlier, and told him about the discovery of the weapons. The shipping agent denied any knowledge of the arms and told them that the man they were after was Mohammed Kahan, and where he was staying in the city. At this point, the man says one of the officers made a quick phone call and said simply, 'He's at the West End Hotel'. We've been unable to find out who that call was to. The shipping agent then told them that Kahan still owed him money and he intended to go and get it from him, while he could. He suggested that they come along and arrest Kahan at the same time. They allowed him to go alone and asked him only to telephone if he made contact.
In Sydney's Pitt Street some time later, the shipping agent says he miraculously found Kahan walking towards his hotel and steered him instead, into a nearby cafe. He believes that Kahan was still unaware at this time, that the arms had been discovered. They ordered coffee, made small talk, and after a short discussion, Kahan agreed to pay up part of his bill in cash. When Kahan left, the man surreptitiously followed him out of the cafe and watched him walk next door to the hotel. Immediately the shipping agent dashed off to call the Customs officers. Yet in spite of the fact that the hotel is less than 100 metres from the Sydney headquarters of the Federal Police, the Customs officer Wulff apparently showed no interest in taking any action. He agreed the man should watch the hotel himself and call back again if Kahan left. But by now Kahan had realised the danger he was in. He threw his gear together so quickly that incriminating documents spilled onto the floor. He now claims he hadn't been warned by media reports at all but had been tipped off.
MOHAMMED KAHAN: And I was advised that I will not be .. I am not welcome any more, that the container has been taken off the ship and then I must find the nearest exit and get out.
TONY JONES: And did you do that?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Naturally, it was in my own interest and also the interests of the people who were protecting me.
TONY JONES: You were warned to get out and were you told that someone would help you to get out in any way?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Someone will oversee my exit.
TONY JONES: And who was that person?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Well, I cannot tell you that, sir.
TONY JONES: What role did that person have? Was ...
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Obviously he must have had some kind of influence somewhere along the line that in case something went wrong, he may be able to intervene or do something whereby I am not held in the country. I am outside the country.
TONY JONES: Did you meet that person at all, that day?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Definitely, the man made it possible for me to get out. He's shadowing me, he's protecting me in the fact that I must get out and this man was sent to me by the link man.
TONY JONES: As incredible as it sounds, Kahan claims that while the shipping agent was playing amateur sleuth for Customs, he was, in turn, being watched by a professional whose job it was to help him escape. The shipping agent did see Kahan hurriedly leave the hotel but lost sight of him further down the street. So after watching Australia's most wanted man scuttle off down Pitt Street, he says he again phoned Senior Inspector Wulff. This time the incredulous shipping agent said he was simply thanked for his efforts and told, top marks for trying.
Later that day, Kahan flew to Brisbane. It was not until the next day that he actually left the country, travelling to Singapore on a friend's passport. With all this out in the open, Customs is still ducking inquiries about the whole bizarre episode. They have refused to answer any of our questions, yet surely the public has a right to know exactly how it was that Kahan was allowed to escape. Under whose orders were the Customs officer proceeding? Were they under riding instructions from their own department, from ASIO, or from any other intelligence agency? We do know at least for their part, that ASIO has assured the Attorney-General that their hands are clean.
Are you quite certain that ASIO had nothing to do with the surveillance operation on Kahan?
LIONEL BOWEN: Oh positive. It had nothing to do with ASIO, it still hasn't, never did have.
TONY JONES: Whatever the involvement of our current batch of spies, we have been told that Federal Police have been investigating a former spy in connection with the Fiji arms affair. The man once held a senior position in Defence Intelligence and fits Kahan's profile of his so-called link man. By the time the Federal Police were properly briefed on the arms, Kahan was winging his way out of the country.
TONY JONES: The AFP's chief investigator soon fuelled speculation with a claim that hundreds of Fijians living in Australia may have been involved in the arms conspiracy.
ALLAN SING: There is certain a strong network here, part of which we suggest supported the arms shipment. I think that probably the vast majority of the people here in Sydney are not violent and they would prefer to take action via some sort of passive method.
TONY JONES: And in Fiji itself, the arms discovery intensified the already unstable political climate. As the army and police searched frantically for arms caches, one observer described a wave of hysteria and military oppression. After raids on six farm houses around the cane growing districts on the west coast of the main island, the army displayed what it described as ten tonnes of captured weapons from Kahan's April shipment. A large number of people were finally charged, the so-called Lautoka 21. A short time later, Federal Police investigators were despatched to Fiji to interview witnesses. One of those they interviewed, a man named Saheed, made a statement implicating in the arms network, influential supporters in Australia of deposed Prime Minister, Dr Timoci Bavadra. The statement wrongly names former South Australian Premier, Don Dunstan, as being involved. It also names a large number of prominent members of the Australian Fijian community. It's true to say that on the basis of Saheed's statement, senior Federal Police assumed that Bavadra's people were behind the arms shipment. But the case of Taimud Ahmed, the Sydney man accused of being Kahan's deputy commander, was dropped when a solicitor from the Director of Public Prosecutions went to Suva to again interview Saheed and decided he was an unreliable witness. The decision angered some Federal Police, who also watched with dismay, the events in the Bow Street Magistrate's Court in London from where Fiji unsuccessfully attempted to extradite Kahan. Despite being urged by Scotland Yard to apply for Kahan's extradition to face charges in Australia, the Federal Government refused to do so.
LIONEL BOWEN: The issue in law is would we have been successful in extradition - the answer was no. Secondly, why should we, as a matter of policy, seek to have somebody come from England to Australia when the offence was to be committed against Fiji, Fiji itself seeking the extradition.
NEIL BROWN: Now my view on this is first of all, there are offences that Kahan could have been charged with, which are extraditable offences, offences under statute, and also common law crimes, so he could be extradited for them. Secondly, even if there are problems, even if there are problems, why not have a go? I mean, arms importing is a terribly serious crime, very serious crime. I think at the end of the day, you've got to say, if you want to get to the bottom of the whole story, there has to be a full inquiry into this whole matter from beginning to end, from Keystone Cops exercise where it started off, right to the bitter end.
TONY JONES: In our attempt to get to the bottom of this story, we returned to the epicentre of the British Commonwealth, to Buckingham Palace, home of the former Queen of Fiji. Rigidly hidebound by convention, the Queen refused to meet her loyal subject, Timoci Bavadra, when he arrived on her doorstep in 1987, having just been deposed by a coup.
BRITISH NEWSREADER: Within minutes of reaching Britain last weekend, Bavadra had been reminded that the diplomatic cold shoulder was invented in Whitehall.
TONY JONES: But while the British were slamming doors in Bavadra's face, one man was making unsuccessful efforts to meet him. That man was Mohammed Kahan. At the time, London barrister Jas Chottu, was Dr Bavadra's legal representative.
JAS CHOTTU: I believe the first time we came across Kahan, or Kahn, I don't know which of the aliases you want to use, but the first time we came across him was at the Palace talks in London. He attempted to infiltrate the delegates representing Dr Bavadra, his Ministers and so on and so forth, and he was getting firmly his message across that he believed that a military initiative was the only initiative whereby Dr Bavadra's Government could be restored to power.
TIMOCI BAVADRA: I've heard that he was after me. I never saw him, but then I said, look, if people want to meet the guy, if you want to .. as has always been my policy, if people want to see us, listen to him and find out what he wants. But in so far as assistance is concerned, my line is long line of non violent means.
TONY JONES: So you didn't want to know about his proposal for some sort of violent struggle?
TIMOCI BAVADRA: No, I didn't. I wanted to make it clear, that's the way I look at things. If he was interested in helping, then he would have to be along that line.
JAS CHOTTU: Needless to say, immediately after the coup, there are many countries in the world who have vested interest and they all made overtures to Dr Bavadra and his Government. They offered assistance, military assistance, in return for military contracts, in return for trade contracts, in return for furthering commercial vested interests really. Mohammed Kahan's overtures to Dr Bavadra were rejected and repelled initially and then it became quite apparent that Kahan was not speaking as an individual, that he had certain, in particular one Middle Eastern country backing him and when that became apparent to us, we felt that he was a force to be contended with.
TONY JONES: We had been told that some of those people who contacted the Bavadra camp offering assistance for a military option were in fact put in touch with Kahan by Fijians in pressure groups, not so committed to a peaceful resolution to the Fijian problem. Connections were made in the Middle East where Kahan, as a Muslim, already had contacts. In fact, he claims to have had secret military training in the Middle East, in a pro-western country, that is. That may simply be a bizarre fantasy but in real life, Kahan is a bizarre person. Our investigations show he is closely connected to at least one notorious Saudi Arabian billionaire, which we will detail later in the program. But through the pressure group, he was able to make other connections as well.
How much money was involved in these offers that were coming from these Middle Eastern businessmen?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: A substantial amount of money could be available for a successful operation and also for good investments in the region.
TONY JONES: How much are we talking about, millions of dollars?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Oh, definitely millions of dollars. I think it was revealed that in my buying spree, I've spent $US28 million, and that's a substantial amount of arms, or money to be spent on arms.
TONY JONES: Now what would have been in it, if you like, what was the quid pro quo? Why would Middle Eastern businessmen be providing that sort of money? That's a huge amount of money, $28 million.
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Oh, I didn't say that all money came from that Middle Eastern source. Of course a lot of money came from our own people, as well. A lot of Asian people who have been subjected to all kinds of sufferance, the last twenty odd years, around the world, these people have run away from Uganda, some who has run away from British Guiana, well people in general, the Asian people living outside India and outside Fiji, felt for their brothers in Fiji, and so it wasn't much of a difficult for us to raise funds.
TONY JONES: But $28 million is a lot of funds.
MOHAMMED KAHAN: $28 million is nothing, is nothing. There are people who are super rich, we don't know them. They could be just camouflaged, they could be still driving a small car, but they are rich.
TONY JONES: And those people were prepared to back you all the way.
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Well, not only to back me, but back the people of .. the Asian people in Fiji. I mean, the real question is, how long are we going to be subjected to this kind of a nonsense, if you want to call it. Everywhere we are kicked out. There is 55 percent Asian people living in British Guiana and the power was taken away from them by Burnham. The people were kicked out and of course, a lot of other things happened before that. In Uganda, and South Africa, okay. It happened now in Fiji. Which is the country next we are going to suffer? When are we going to stand up and say, 'Enough fellows'. Whoever is doing this to us, we are going to take them on. We've got the money, we've got the brains, we never took up arms and this time, we are going to take up arms because in the human context, we respect force, we respect authority, we respect people who stand up for their own right. The time has come for the Asians around the world to say, 'Okay, we have suffered enough'.
TONY JONES: But of course, there was also a financial imperative, wasn't there? I mean, what was in it for them, if you like, in terms of the future of Fiji?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Business, because Fiji could become like another Singapore, or better. We have ideal location in the South Pacific, economically and militarily, you see.
TONY JONES: Kahan now had the money and the personal incentive to make even more. All he needed now was weapons and as it turned out, he already had the right connections. For a front, he used the company name Qintex. This tiny office in downtown London was his base. It's such a shoe string operation that it's difficult to believe the sums of money Kahan claims to have spent, nor did he offer any evidence to prove such huge figures were involved. Yet sophisticated arms did get through and there's evidence that the network of companies involved is linked to that used for the flow of arms to the US backed Contra forces fighting the Government of Nicaragua. On Kahan's trans-shipment documents we acquired in Australia, the company listed as sender of the container is Qintex Trican. Kahan's card which he handed around in Australia, refers to a company known as Trican Ventures, based in Vancouver, Canada.
Company searches have revealed that Kahan is in fact a director of Trican Ventures. Our investigations into these companies show direct links to the complex financial network which was established in Canada by the Saudi Arabian businessman and international arms trader, Adnan Khashoggi. Khashoggi himself is now on bail of $US14 million, facing charges in the United States of fraudulent involvement with the former Philippines President Marcos.
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Well, the man has a lot of influence, he's got a lot of connections and a lot of right connections and he also can make things happen.
TONY JONES: Adnan Khashoggi?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Yes.
TONY JONES: What do you know of his operations?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: It's a massive operation. Sometimes it's too big for me to comprehend.
TONY JONES: Is he the linchpin in this arms deal that you were involved in?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Again, you are asking me direct questions, sir. I will not pinpoint anybody or name anybody.
TONY JONES: Now, the arms shipment found in Sydney included consignment papers and the name on the consignment papers was Qintex Trican. Now, that's an Adnan Khashoggi shelf company, isn't it?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Qintex is London based but the other company is overseas based.
TONY JONES: Trican?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Yes.
TONY JONES: Trican is in fact, an Adnan Khashoggi shelf company. We've checked.
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Okay, so that's you know, I mean .. but that doesn't mean that Adnan Khashoggi is directly involved.
TONY JONES: What, involved through some of his lieutenants, perhaps?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Whatever. Okay, so maybe some of his juniors were involved.
TONY JONES: Isn't the reality though, that you are intricately linked through all these companies, to the Khashoggi network?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: A lot of money we are talking about, and all this money comes about through these connections, through people we know and a lot of fancy footwork has to be done, a lot of covert operation has to be done, and all this can only be possible if we know the right people, or if you are connected to the right people, otherwise all this cannot happen. See, we live in a very difficult world ... in the sense that to make things happen, you alone cannot do it. I alone, could not have done what has happened. I had to have help from other people.
TONY JONES: With connections like these, Kahan was clearly playing in the big league. The Trican Group was part of a massive restructuring of Khashoggi companies, after he was revealed as the mastermind behind the arms for hostages deal with Iran, the scandal that became known as Irangate. The US court action against Khashoggi for alleged involvement in laundering money for Ferdinand Marcos was a further blow to the extravagant billionaire. Now a former insider in the Khashoggi empire has agreed to explain the role of the Trican companies. Timothy Khan is not related to Mohammed Kahan, in fact he joined Khashoggi's network at a senior level in 1983.
TIMOTHY KHAN: Trican is basically a company that has various subsidiaries. They have Trican Corporation, Trican Investments Ltd, Trican Ventures and Qintex Trican in London.
TONY JONES: Do you believe that these companies that we're talking about, in particular the Trican Group, have any involvement at all with investment of the Marcos monies?
TIMOTHY KHAN: Yes, there have been Marcos funds that have been laundered through these companies, Trican Investments, Trican Ventures. Because of the diversity of the companies and where they are, their geographic locations they go all the way from London to the Caymans, to Netherland Antilles, and one of the main ways to move these funds around was to move it discreetly outside of Triad, which was Mr Khashoggi's control companies, because they were just after the Irangate, too many people investigating that.
TONY JONES: Have you ever heard of that company, Trican Ventures, being involved before, in arms deals of any kind?
TIMOTHY KHAN: No, not Trican Ventures itself but the principals of Trican, whether they be Mr Mohammed Kahan or whether they be indirectly, Mr Khashoggi, have all had dealings in the arms business and it is my opinion that they have basically used more so the Trican London company to transact arm transactions with.
TONY JONES: What do you know of Mohammed Kahan himself?
TIMOTHY KHAN: I am not too familiar with Mr Kahan. I have heard his name many times in the circle but I have never face to face, met him at all. I do know that he is associated with the Trican companies, he is responsible for some of their activities and basically, acts mostly as a front man for the sort of, as I call them, the heavy duty hitters behind the scene.
TONY JONES: The public inquiry into Irangate showed how the CIA and Colonel Oliver North used the Khashoggi network to organise funding for their secret arms deals with Iran. But Timothy Kahn claims these CIA deals continued, even after the hearings had finished, this time through the Trican network of companies.
TIMOTHY KHAN: Most definitely. First of all, if I may bring to your attention that Mr Khashoggi's companies, Triads International, Triad America etc, have always had CIA connections. On staff at our offices in New York were two CIA, former CIA associates and therefore, extensively most of our intelligence that we gathered when we did business internationally, whether for Trican or whether it was done for Triad, relied very heavily on information from the CIA.
TONY JONES: And was the CIA also being supplied with operation as a result of the dealings that these companies were having with overseas countries and so on?
TIMOTHY KHAN: Yes, many times the CIA would request us to participate in transactions that they could not directly participate in, or where the United States Government could not directly, for political reasons, participate.
TONY JONES: Timothy Kahn has definite views on the associations of his Fijian namesake, Mohammed Kahan. Do you believe it would be inevitable that he too would have had dealings with the CIA?
TIMOTHY KHAN: Oh, most definitely, without a question. When you are involved in the nature of business of these companies, which is basically, you cannot move funds of the magnitude that are moved around, without it being detected or without it having .. without you having strategic alliances somewhere. And the CIA, as far as .. and now I'm going to say we were concerned, speaking as part of the Khashoggi Group was, and Trican is, always looking for strategic alliances, you have to do things and you have to make those alliances and the CIA is the people that you make those alliances with.
TONY JONES: All of this begs the question as to who the arms were really going to, as the clear purpose was to put force in the hands of one political faction.
TIMOCI BAVADRA: By that time, by the time we were discovered, the alliance was already in Government. They already had their own guns. They used the guns to get us out of office, you know, why more guns? We, on the other hand, didn't use guns. We were not interested in guns. We didn't like guns. You know, the inference is the sort of thing that are pondered over and didn't really come to any firm conclusion even until now. I don't know what really happened and what is the truth.
TONY JONES: The truth lies in these idyllic and strategically located islands, but to understand what really happened, we must delve into the complex and Machiavellian world of Fijian politics. For seventeen years after Fiji gained its independence from Britain, the political system was held together by a big chief, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, big in tribal rank and big in physical stature. For that whole period, Mara gloried in his role as the statesman of the South Pacific, a big wheel whose grasp on power tightened until it seemed his for life. The election victory of Dr Timoci Bavadra's Labor Coalition in 1987 must have stunned Mara. No-one expected him to give up power lightly but the military coup on the 14 May gave it back to him much sooner than anyone had expected. The Bavadra Government lasted less than one month. Mara has always denied any complicity in the coup. It was the Taukei movement, a racist pro-Fijian organisation whose members acted to destabilise the country, to give Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka the excuse to step in, seize control and become Fiji's second strong man. Now the former vice-president of the Taukei movement, Ratu Meli Vesikula, says he is convinced Mara sanctioned the coup.
What makes you think that Ratu Mara supported the first coup?
MELI VESIKULA: Because I had seen two affidavits which clearly implicated him and his son, Ratu Finau Mara. On top of that, the people who actually took part in the planning of the coup told me, physically, that they did visit him and informed him of their plot.
TONY JONES: And what did they say happened at that meeting?
MELI VESIKULA: They said that they found him quite downhearted but when they mentioned the plot to him he definitely perked up and became cheerful and confirmed his support to their plan, except that he couldn't come out publicly to support them because of what he had already said about his support for democracy in Fiji.
TONY JONES: What plan exactly did they outline to him? Did they tell you?
MELI VESIKULA: They told me that they planned to destabilise the country and at the appropriate time, the military will step in and take over Government.
TONY JONES: Now one of the people that told you this, I believe was Jone De Simasima who at the time was general secretary of the Alliance Party.
MELI VESIKULA: Yes, he was one of them.
TONY JONES: What else did he tell you?
MELI VESIKULA: He also told me that Ratu Finau was sent down to the Fijian Hotel where Ratu Mara was attending a conference on Wednesday, to inform Ratu Mara that the coup had been brought forward one day. But, as well as that, he also told me that a few moments after the coup had gone in, that he physically telephoned Ratu Mara at the Fijian to let him know that the eagle had landed.
TONY JONES: The eagle had landed?
MELI VESIKULA: The eagle had landed.
TONY JONES: How important do you believe, would Ratu Mara's support have been for these men to continue with their plot?
MELI VESIKULA: Very very important, so important I feel that had he not given, or withdrawn his support, then I believe that the coup wouldn't have taken place.
TONY JONES: The coup ushered Rabuka into power and began a period of confused in-fighting among the ruling elites. Though no longer the paramount leader, Mara was still in the forefront of the country's new governing body, but the ruling Council of Ministers, as it was called, became a platform for competing aspirations. Under pressure from the Taukei movement, Rabuka staged the second coup in September 1987. Only two months later, Rabuka declared Fiji a republic, cutting all ties with Britain and the first decree of the fledgling Republic of Fiji was the appointment of Ratu Mara as Prime Minister. It was a return to the old order. After two coups, Mara was back in power, but some of the diehards in the Taukei movement felt betrayed. As this document shows, they no longer trusted the motives of Ratu Mara. Secret meetings were held with senior army officers to plan a third coup.
Now in the period after the second coup, I believe that feeling led to an actual plot to hatch a third coup, to unseat Ratu Mara.
MELI VESIKULA: Yes.
TONY JONES: And the third coup would have been instigated by Rabuka himself, or members of his officer corps.
MELI VESIKULA: Yes, I believe members of his officer corps would have instigated that coup.
TONY JONES: Do you believe they were sent along to those meetings by Rabuka?
MELI VESIKULA: Oh yes, I can't believe otherwise. I believe that they were sent along by their commander.
TONY JONES: Over the past few weeks, Ratu Meli Vesikula has been in Australia. He's here to explain why he's now switched allegiance from the Taukei movement to Dr Bavadra. His turnaround is all the more dramatic for the fact that he'd actually been a Minister for a period, in the Military Government and was, in every sense, an insider with knowledge of the personalities and events that we're examining.
He's told us that during the desperate period of infighting that preceded the arms shipments, Mohammed Kahan engineered a meeting with him which Vesikula interprets as an attempt to draw him into the arms conspiracy.
When you met Kahan, did he tell you anything about his belief as to who would be best to run Fiji?
MELI VESIKULA: Yes, he said that the country needed Ratu Mara, the country needed his expertise, his diplomacy and his statesmanship.
TONY JONES: And is that when he said that a military option might be possible?
MELI VESIKULA: Yes, if necessary, if it's necessary for a military option, they will be able to provide the stuff to ensure that Ratu Mara is left to lead the country.
TONY JONES: It was not the first indication that the arms may have been destined for supporters of Ratu Mara. Many of the Lautoka 21 arrested after the army tracked down Kahan's April shipment, proved to be staunch Mara supporters. One man, not among the 21, was a Fijian named Bokhani who we've been told was a friend of Kahan. He and his brother, an army officer, were alleged to have helped Kahan with the arms shipment. The brothers were from the island of Lau, Ratu Mara's heartland and constituency. During this tense period, former Taukei activist, Tony Stephens, was in gaol with Bokhani. Stephens was facing charges he later beat on appeal.
TONY STEPHENS: Bokhani told me that Kahan works for the .. brought in the guns for and on behalf of the Alliance people and that his contact was K R Latchan.
TONY JONES: Mara in fact, had many close supporters among the Indian business community. The man, K R Latchan, was a Member of Parliament in Mara's Alliance Government. Stephens was told that Latchan was one of the financiers of the arms shipments. And did Bokhani tell you what role he himself and his brother, the army officer, were to have in this matter?
TONY STEPHENS: Well, his brother was involved in getting the container cleared, for a price, which was a motor cycle. And Bokhani, because of his special relationship with Kahan, they were gaol mates and all that, was supposed to assist with Kahan with the training, getting people around, getting the guns around Fiji.
TONY JONES: They were supposed to assist with training and what, distribution of the weapons?
TONY STEPHENS: Yes.
TONY JONES: Did he tell you anything else, this Bokhani?
TONY STEPHENS: Only that there was quite a bit of, there was quite a lot of guns and ammunition still lying around the countryside, there was a lot more than it was mentioned.
TONY JONES: Did he tell you that there may have been other shipments?
TONY STEPHENS: He told me that there would be .. there was a lot more than that was found.
TONY JONES: The thrust of this complex story is echoed by Kahan himself.
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Well, Ratu Mara was becoming very jittery about the fact that there was certain forces, in particular Taukei movement, putting pressure on Rabuka to ask Mara to step aside, and Ratu Mara didn't want to go away that way. In fact, they were going to sack him, so we signalled through Mara's connection, to Mara, that this has been planned and I think that he ...
TONY JONES: Can we go back over that again. I gather that Ratu Mara was feeling uncertain about his future in any sort of Rabuka-led, in any sort of Government that had Rabuka as the most powerful force.
MOHAMMED KAHAN: A certain number of business people always voted for Ratu Mara. When the coup took place they could not give their allegiance to Rabuka and though they had intelligence information showing that Ratu Mara's hand has been dirtying the coup as well, but they know Ratu Mara. Despite the fact that his hands are dirty, they still thought if they have to choose between Rabuka and Ratu Mara, they will stay with Ratu Mara. And when Ratu Mara's position was threatened, these certain .. these Indian people were backing Ratu Mara, and these are business people, people with a lot of influence, people with a lot of money. They got afraid too. Now Ratu Mara was afraid as well.
TONY JONES: They were looking for some way to get rid of Rabuka, and they came to you, offering financial support?
MOHAMMED KAHAN: Yes, they were offering financial support.
TONY JONES: To buy arms.
MOHAMMED KAHAN: To buy arms, you know, but we were buying arms before that. I mean, we were doing, to a certain extent, they knew what we were doing so if Ratu Mara went, these people would be left in the cold.
TONY JONES: Enter the Swami, Sri Chandrah Maharaj, for what story of intrigue would be complete without a Swami. In a time honoured tradition, this Swami is a spiritual and financial guru for the world's rich and famous. He preaches a strange mixture of Chritianity and Islam.
TIMOCI BAVADRA: I get quite a number of Swamis but there was a Swami that was very closely associated with Ratu Mara and in the last elections in 1987, he was reportedly in Suva to see Ratu Mara and told him about the future of the election in Fiji and it was reported in the papers then that the Swami was met at the airport by Ratu Mara's security officer who then whipped him across to Suva for a meeting with Ratu Mara. And so there was that link with Swami.
TONY JONES: As it happens, the good Swami, who carries among others, a Fijian passport, had come to Fiji in Adnan Khashoggi's private jet. He too was a central figure in the Iran-Contra arms scandal and what's more, his own company, Sasvahti(?) International, is deeply intertwined with the Trican group of companies through a bank which it finances in the tax haven of the Cayman Islands. The Swami's connections to Ratu Mara are equally secretive. To insiders in the Khashoggi circle, he bragged about the closeness of his relationship to the Fijian Prime Minister. We've been told by a reliable source that the Swami's flying trip to Fiji was to discuss the possibility of the former dictator of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, coming to live there, to escape scrutiny of his assets in the United states.
TIMOTHY KHAN: If you know the Swami and the way he operates, he would pat the Prime Minister of Fiji on his shoulders and on the backside and you know, say this .. he is a good trusted friend of mine, he is a follower of mine, he believes in what I am doing and he can be very helpful to all of us. And I think the Swami's motives behind this were financial.
TONY JONES: We have been told too, of meetings in Hawaii in 1986, between Mara and another key man in the Khashoggi circle. There are clear associations with key figure in the very network of companies through which the arms appear to have been procured. This raises questions which only Ratu Mara can answer, but for his part, the statesman of the Pacific has refused our requests for an interview. On questions related to the arms affair, the following statement was released to us on his behalf:
The allegations are outrageous, absurd, malicious and totally false.
It's not hard to imagine the sort of damage secret stockpiles of weapons like this could do in a tiny country of only three quarters of a million people. But while we've no evidence that Ratu Mara himself knew of the arms plot, there's little doubt the weapons were being organised to preserve his rule. And if supporters of the Prime Minister did allow themselves to become enmeshed in such incredible plans, we are bound to ask whether he had any knowledge of those plans. Outside of Ratu Mara, other questions also arise. Did the CIA sanction this whole strange operation, and did our own intelligence services have knowledge of what was going on? Only an independent commission of inquiry could get to the bottom of the Fijian end and in the present climate, that's unlikely to happen.
ANDREW OLLE: Tony Jones with that disturbing story of bumbling and intrigue, a sort of Kahangate.