Appealing the verdict won’t happen until the High Court passes a sentence on Bishop on August 26 after he was found guilty of corruption as a minister of the Crown. He could face up to 14 years’ imprisonment.
Bishop and his many supporters had expected the jury to return a verdict of not guilty, when that didn’t happen, shock ran through the packed courtroom. Visibly stunned at being found guilty, Bishop recovered quickly, like he’d had an electric shock. That sentence ends three years of waiting for police here to prepare and build a strong case against the former minister of Marine Resources.
“I’ve prepared myself over the last three years for the worst scenario, this is what I keep telling everyone, always prepare for the worst.”
It was the worst scenario for Bishop, who entered politics in 1999 as the member for Arutanga-Nikaupara-Reureu in Aitutaki.
But after the momentary shock had passed, Bishop says he felt as if a burden had been lifted from his shoulders.
“My family and I have had to deal with this for over three years and it was over.”
“I couldn’t believe everyone was bawling their eyes out and all I could feel was a sense of relief.”
That relief wasn’t shared by Bishop’s immediate family, wife Annie of 27 years and three daughters Maria, Tanya and Naomi.
“They were devastated.”
“One thing I did do from the start of the case preparation was to involve my family in every aspect, it was a family affair,” says Bishop of the months spent building his defence. He says eldest daughter Maria was critical in helping collect evidence.
“She is angry, but such is life.
“Of course we are disappointed by the result, but we are now moving on.”
He acknowledges former New Zealand Police detective Mark Franklin’s contribution to his defence team.
“I have to give him a big thank you for his professionalism and high standards in the collection of evidence and conducting interviews.”
It’s not out of choice that Bishop will most likely have to exit political life after 17 years as a MP and senior minister in the Cook Islands Party administration, holding portfolios including marine resources, tourism and education.
“I may be quitting politics but politics is still in me.”
He talks about continuing to lead One Cook Islands as long as he is able to “come back to caucus to help the team of national unity.”
For now though it’s back to “where we were, looking after our businesses. My wife was just the other day doing the wages and paying taxes.”
Being out of the political game will mean more family time and focus on the several businesses Bishop owns with his wife.
“Life is good, family is good.”
Bishop is not the first Cook Islander to be found guilty of corruption as a minister of the Crown.
The High Court heard the prosecution state that between October 14, 2011 and July 10, 2013 Bishop and business partner Thomas Koteka received a loan from Century Finance a subsidiary of Luen Thai, for the purchase of Samade Resort in Aitutaki.
But Bishop doesn’t believe he’s guilty of wrong-doing.
“What is more important is what is in my heart and I have a clear conscience that I did nothing corrupt.”
He adds: “I do things to please my God, it is God who judges me and he is the judge I am more afraid of.”
WHAT IS unusual of the recent Bishop trial is that according to legal sources, jury panels here don’t usually return guilty verdicts. It may have been that past tendency that prompted the defence team to choose this option rather a trial by judge alone.
Bishop says he “…went for a jury trial because I wanted Cook Islanders to judge me.”
And judge Bishop, 11 local jurors did. As did the jury panel that heard the 2005 corruption case against the late Peri Vaevaepare, who was Police minister at the time. Vaevaepare escaped a prison term on corruption charges, using government-paid materials and workers for renovations on his home.
Then chief Justice David Williams ordered Vaevaepare’s sentence left open and dependent on whether he reoffended. He was ordered to pay $5000 for prosecution costs. The value of materials was placed at below $500 and the value of government labour was not mentioned in the sentencing report.
Bishop says it was unfortunate in his trial that the jury “…were not allowed to use their emotion, recognise anything that I have done and could not take professional advice.”
Meanwhile, media have asked High Court Registrar Claudine Auguna-Henry when the High Court is expected to notify Chief Electoral Officer Taggy Tangimetua regarding the Bishop judgement.
Once this is done the Chief Electoral Officer will advise the Speaker of the House, Niki Rattle. This will eventuate in the Arutanga-Nikaupara-Reureu seat being declared vacant and a by-election will be held.
Whether or not Bishop appeals the case is dependent on sentencing next month, says Bishop. In the meantime, there’s going to be a lot of fishing for the long serving politician, but for real fish from outside of Aitutaki lagoon, not political support.