MADANG GOVERNOR KAS FREED AS COURT QUASHES CONVICTION

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By Moresi Ruahma‘a

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 3, 1999 - The National)---After five months in prison, Madang Governor Jim Kas walked out of the Waigani courthouse Friday morning a free man after the Supreme Court overturned the politicians conviction on a technicality.

Dressed in a blue suit and looking relieved, he hugged his wife and daughter outside the court, and shook hands with supporters who crowded the court room to hear the decision.

Mr. Kas and three policemen were convicted last year and sentenced to four years in jail for interfering with and endangering the safety of an aircraft at Madang airport in February of 1998.

The incident began when Mr. Kas was to fly to Mt. Hagen on an Airlink aircraft to attend the inaugural meeting of Prime Minister Bill Skate's PNG First party.

He arrived to the airport when the plane was proceeding to take-off.

The Governor, Frank Faibison, Michael Jim, and Rodney Tongau, drove onto the runway and stopped the vehicle under one of the wings of aircraft.

They signaled to the pilot that Mr. Kas wished to board the plane, but the pilot waved them away and took off.

An investigation was launched into the incident, and subsequently charges were filed against the four.

A National Court judge found them guilty and jailed them.

However, a full bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Sir Arnold Ame, found the National Court had erred in finding that the accused had any "intention" to endanger the safety of the aircraft in question.

The court agreed with lawyer Greg Sheppard's contention that section of the Criminal Code under which Mr. Kas and the others were charged intended to catch acts of air piracy and terrorism.

Mr. Sheppard had argued that Mr. Kas' attempt to board the plane was not such an act.

The Supreme Court did not give details for the reasons for their decision, other than to say there was no evidence that Mr. Kas and the three policemen intended to cause any harm.

Details of the decision are expected to be released sometime this week.

Stepping into freedom following the verdict at 10.30 a.m., Mr. Kas shed tears of joy and issued a general apology for his actions.

"I am really sorry for what I have done,'' he said.

"I am deeply grateful to my lawyer for enabling me and the three policemen to be released without any criminal conviction against our names.''

Mr. Kas also thanked his family, friends, voters and the people of Madang during a press conference for their support and others including the Christians who supported him.

He made a special mention of "the Catholic charismatic group in Madang and Manus.''

He also said that while the ordeal had been a sobering one, he accepted some of the blame.

According to Mr. Kas, his experience in prison had also taught him not to let his high office go to his head.

"Some leaders allow their high position to go to their heads, and I suppose there was something of that in my decision to attempt to get my plane to wait for me when I missed boarding it by a few minutes,'' said Mr Kas.

He also said that now that he was free, he would not be wasting time but get on with the job of governing Madang to bring goods and services to the people.

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