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ALOFI, Niue (August 13, 2000 – Niue Economic Review)---Niue Premier Sani Lakatani can thank his brothers for helping him avoid a potentially embarrassing bankruptcy, reports The Independent business newspaper in New Zealand.

Lakatani’s Auckland lawyers this week handed over a check for $30,000 to Redwood Exports [NZ] Ltd. as a "take it or leave it" settlement of his admitted debt to the company.

Steve Ware, Redwood’s managing director, dropped bankruptcy proceedings, letting Lakatani, who is also Niue’s Minister of Finance, off the hook.

But the whole saga, which began on the South Pacific Island more than two years ago, has left a nasty taste in Ware’s mouth.

Lakatani gave a personal guarantee to cover a debt of about $24,000 incurred by R. R. Rex and Sons Ltd., a general store in Niue’s capital of Alofi, for imports supplied by Redwood, a small family business based in Penrose, Auckland.

Frustrated by Lakatani’s stalling in paying his debt, Ware issued bankruptcy proceedings, presenting a possible hazard to Lakatani’s continued career in politics.

The premier’s bid for a Niue Development Bank loan to cover his debt astounded his political opponents, some of whom questioned his right to remain an elected representative if he was declared bankrupt.

Ware learned last week that Lakatani’s two Hawaiian-based brothers, Petala and Moheni, had deposited $30,000 into the trust account of Kiely Thompson Caisley, the premier’s lawyers, for full and final payment of the debt to Redwood.

The total debt, with legal and interest costs, had risen to $36,000. Faced with the $6,000 shortfall, Ware was riled. But, on the grounds of commercial expediency, he accepted.

Ware said: "We have taken legal advice and that is: take the money and run.

"I am very disappointed with the attitude of the premier. He agrees to pay a debt of honor, which is substantial by anyone’s circumstances, then turns round and says, take it or leave it.

"He then had the audacity to ask us not to talk to the media. The request came from his lawyers. They would prefer it if we did not go to the media," said Ware.

"I feel sorry for the people of Niue. Part of my taxes are going to Niue Island in the form of aid. What am I supposed to feel?

"We are a small family business. We probably have to sell $75,000 worth of business to make up that $6,000 worth of outstanding debt. I’m disgusted by the whole thing," he said.

Ware intends writing to Prime Minister Helen Clark, telling her he doesn't want any of his taxes being used as aid for Niue.

(NOTE: Dollar amounts are in New Zealand dollars. NZ$ .4485 = US$ 1.00)

For additional reports from the Niue Economic Review, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Magazines/Journals/Niue Economic Review.

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