THERE was silence at the Cook Islands High Court yesterday afternoon when the jury reached a guilty verdict against Aitutaki MP and former Minister for Marine Resources Teina Bishop.
The high profile and often intense case came close to a temporary halt as the 11 jurors found him guilty on a charge of corruption by a Minister of the Crown before High Court Judge Justice Colin Doherty.
A visibly shocked Bishop was remanded on bail until nine this morning, where he will once again appear in the High Court to hear a decision on his sentencing date.
The High Court was crowded with prominent figures there to give their support to the One Cook Islands movement leader.
Earlier in the day, Judge Justice Doherty summed up the facts of the case and went over them with the jury, reminding them that they all needed to make one decision, as the law required them to reach a unanimous verdict.
“Sometimes it is possible to bring in a majority verdict, but that can only happen when certain circumstances exist and I will advise on this and if it gets to that point, at least nine from the jury will need to agree one way or the other.”
Judge Justice Doherty said in the two and half weeks the case had taken, most of the evidence had not been assessed and the jury needed to re-examine this if they needed and it would be entirely up to the jury to decide whether it was relevant.
“You don’t have to accept everything that a witness says. You may think it’s truthful but it may not be, so this is a case where you need to apply robust, old-fashioned common sense.
“You need to think about and ask yourselves if you can rely on what the prosecution witness and evidence have shown, to make an important decision,” Judge Justice Doherty advised the jury.
Before jury members retired to make a decision Judge Justice Doherty reminded them of their roles and responsibilities towards the country, the evidence and facts being produced and the witness that had been presented in court.
Following the jury’s decision, Bishop’s lawyer, Rodney Harrison, said he was unsure whether the court needed a probation report. However, Judge Justice Doherty’s decision to confirm the sentencing date today would enable him to seek instructions from Bishop.
Judge Justice Doherty told Harrison and prosecution lawyers Michael Thomas and Nick Williams that there was no need to rush into the sentencing date decision and this morning would be the best time to decide on this.
There was no need for a statutory request for a probation report on Bishop.
He acknowledged the members of the jury for their service and for having to sit in on the longest trial ever to be held in the Cook Islands.
The jurors have been excused from jury service for the next two years.
Bishop entered a not guilty plea on his charge of corruption on the first day of the trial. The court heard that between October 14, 2011 and July 10, 2013 Bishop and his business partner Thomas Koteka received a loan from Leun Thai subsidiary Century Finance. Of this, $250k of this was invested by Koteka so he and Bishop could buy Samade Resort in Aitutaki for $1 million, and much of the evidence centred around the circumstances of the loan.
Bishops trial took almost three weeks, and the jury took more than four hours to reach a verdict.
The guilty verdict will again alter the ever-changing political landscape in the Cook Islands. Bishop, whose true political allegiances have at times appeared uncertain, was leader of the parliamentary opposition until recently, when he resigned under a pre-arranged agreement and handed over the position to Ngatangiia MP Tamaiva Tuavera.