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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Jan. 12) – Opposition Leader Peter O’Neill was cleared of one conspiracy and eight misappropriation charges by the Papua New Guinea Committal Court in Waigani yesterday.

Presiding magistrate Mekeo Gauli, in upholding a no-case submission by the leader’s lawyer Rimbink Pato, said he was satisfied the prosecution had failed to prove that Mr. O’Neill had a case to answer.

The allegations against Mr. O’Neill stem from the National Provident Fund [NPF] Commission of Inquiry. Mr. Gauli ordered that Mr. O’Neill’s PGK1,000 [US$342] bail be refunded.

Police arrested and charged Mr. O’Neill on August 17 last year. He was alleged to have conspired with former NPF (now NASFUND) board chairman Jimmy Maladina, Jack Awela, and Shuichi Taniguchi and Kazu Kobayashi — both of Japanese construction firm Kumagai Gumi — to defraud the NPF by fraudulently requesting the "acceleration" of the NPF tower project funds by PGK2.65 million [US$908,000]. This allegedly occurred between December 1998 and February 1999.

Police prosecutions director Thomas Eluh had earlier submitted that from the money trail of the NPF Tower fraud -from the NPF to Kumagai Gumi, Ken Yapane, Fincorp and Carter Newell Lawyers trust account - the amount of PGK1,334,453 [US$457,000] was eventually paid into the Port Moresby First National Real Estate (PMFNRE).

During the commission of inquiry, Mr. O’Neill met with Mr. Maladina in Cairns, Australia and both were trying desperately to cover-up their involvement in the NPF tower fraud, it was alleged.

Mr. Eluh submitted that Mr. O’Neill was the principal owner of PMFNRE even though he (Mr. O’Neill), without proof tried to suggest that he had sold the company to Maurice Sullivan, and yet his uncle Jack Awela, who did not seem to have any knowledge about the company, claimed to own 89 per cent of the shares in PMFNRE. He said Hunter Real Estate, owned by Mr. O’Neill, changed its management and name to PMFNRE and Mr. Sullivan was not the owner but a PMFNRE director and at the same time a director of South Super Stores (SSS), which was owned by Mr. O’Neill.

Mr. Eluh said Mr. O’Neill benefited from the NPF tower fraud where he had authorized payments totaling PGK250,000 [US$85,000] from the PMFNRE to SSS accounts.

Mr. Pato in response said there was no evidence of any meeting between Mr. O’Neill and Mr. Maladina and the connection between Mr. O’Neill and PMFNRE was non-existent. He said the defense had established that Mr. O’Neill was not the principal owner or shareholder of the PMFNRE and that Hunter Real Estate and PMFNRE were separate companies. Mr. Pato said there was also no evidence that Mr. O’Neill was connected to PMFNRE nor was there evidence that any money paid to PMFNRE was received by Mr. O’Neill.

Meanwhile, Mr. Eluh said this was not the end of the matter, as he would present the file to Public Prosecutor Chronox Manek for a possible indictment in the National Court.

January 12, 2006

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