SANDLINE OBJECTS TO PNG GOVERNMENT STATEMENTS

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 5, 1999 – PACNEWS/The National)---Mercenary organization Sandline International has accused the Papua New Guinea Government of making misleading statements about its attempts to secure US$ 18 million owed to it by PNG, The National newspaper reports.

Sandline's commercial adviser, Michael Grunberg, told the newspaper from London that comments made by Prime Minister Bill Skate that Sandline had been engaged by the former Chan government to "murder Papua New Guineans on Bougainville for blood money," were potentially libelous.

Sandline has registered the debt owed to it by PNG in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany and the United States and has identified PNG assets from which the debt could be settled.

Grunberg said Sandline is also very familiar with PNG assets in Australia but would not disclose what the company's next move there would be.

Senior PNG foreign affairs officials and diplomats have said they had asked various governments, including Australia, to invoke diplomatic immunity to protect PNG diplomatic assets from seizure. But Grunberg says PNG's claim that the Belgian Government has intervened to lift a freeze on the bank account of the PNG mission in Brussels is untrue. Grunberg said the account was never frozen in the first place. It is very misleading, he added, for the state to make these statements.

He said diplomatic accounts were inviolate, containing only small amounts of money, so there was no point in Sandline going after them. Sandline is interested in more substantial commercial accounts, Grunberg said, adding that diplomatic immunity does not apply to those assets, and, for example, most of PNG's assets in Australia are therefore vulnerable.

Grunberg said Skate's accusation last month that Sandline is holding PNG ransom is also unfair and misleading. All Sandline is doing, he said, is seeking to collect a debt, and that any ethical country that honors principles would meet those obligations.

Sandline was hired by the former government of Sir Julius Chan to assist the PNG Defense Force in ending the Bougainville crisis, but the contract was aborted during March 1997.

Last year an international tribunal ruled that PNG must pay Sandline US$ 18 million still owed under the contract, but PNG is set to appeal the decision in the Queensland Supreme Court in Brisbane on March 11.

The PNG Government has indicated that it will also seek to recover the US$ 18 million already paid to Sandline in new legal proceedings at home.

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