Fiji's 'Risto' Acquitted

Photo: ERR
9/25/2012 8:49 AM

An Estonian resident of Fiji whose actions allowed a rebel leader and accused coup plotter escape to Tonga has been acquitted of obstruction of justice.

Risto Härmat, a fisherman from Saaremaa who has lived on the Pacific island for seven years, insisted that he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time with his boat when he picked up Tevita Mara, the son of a former Fijian president, in May 2011.

From Härmat's vessel, according to one version, Mara ended up directly on a Tongan military vessel, which prosecutors said was preplanned. Härmat said it was a fishing trip to a nearby island.

Delivering the ruling on September 24, magistrate Mohammed Saneem said on Fijilive that the accusation had been dismissed as the case could not be proved. There was no evidence that Härmat received any compensation for ferrying Mara or of other collusion, he said. Witnesses called to testify reported only that the two had been fishing.

Observers characterized Härmat as an antihero on Fiji, with headlines of the islands dailies referring to him as "Risto."