PNG PRIME MINISTER DEMANDS END TO MOTI INQUIRY

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By Julia Daia Bore

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Feb. 22) – Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare has moved to disband the PNG Defence Force Board of Inquiry.

Lawyers representing the Prime Minister appeared at the inquiry yesterday and demanded the immediate discontinuation of the proceedings by "disbanding itself" and "surrendering all its records, transcripts files" and everything else to the Minister for Defence.

[PIR editor’s note: The board of inquiry has been unable to call Prime Minister Somare to answer questions regarding the escape from PNG earlier this year of Solomon Islands fugitive Julian Moti. Moti, who was named attorney general in the Solomons shortly before he went on the lam, is wanted by Australian authorities in connection with the alleged sexual assault of a Vanuatu teen. ]

Somare’s lawyer Mr. Kerenga Kua also questioned the appointment of Justice Gibbs Salika as chairman of the inquiry.

Kua contended that "there was no validly appointed chairman to this board and consequently the composition of this entire board and its entire proceedings was a legal nullity."

This move comes as the inquiry is winding down and preparing to complete and send its final report to the Minister for Defence.

Kua also said the summons served on his client Somare to appear before the inquiry was not necessary on the basis that under Sect 52 (1) (a) of the Defence Act, he did not have or was likely to have material evidence that may be needed by the inquiry.

He said the summons for Somare’s appearance should be withdrawn, and added that only Mr. Joseph Assaigo had asserted that Somare had directed the Moti flight.

This was hearsay; assumptions and that he was the only witness against three others who said they did not get any directions from the PM for such a military operation, he said.

On the jurisdiction issue, Kua said the chairman "does not possess the qualifications and criteria set out under the Defence Regulation 3 (1) of the Defence (Boards of Inquiry) Regulations Chapter No.74 of the Regulations."

He said under the Defence Regulations 3 (2), the chairman of the inquiry would have to be an "officer of the Defence Force," and said "since the current chairman was not, unless proven otherwise, he does not quality to be appointed as chairman."

On Wednesday, suspended director-general of the Office of Security and Coordination assessment Joseph Assaigo claimed before the inquiry that he strongly believed there was a grand collusion or conspiracy between Ambassador Barney Rongap, Chief Secretary Mr. Joshua Kalinoe and PM’s chief of staff Mr. Leonard Louma to make it look like he was telling lies before the Defence inquiry.

Assaigo said this when senior counsel assisting the inquiry John Kawi put it to him that all the other senior Government officials including the Prime Minister Sir Michael had said in the media and also before the inquiry that they had no knowledge of the clandestine flight until the operation was reported in the media.

Kawi asked Assaigo what he had to say for being branded "a lair."

Assaigo said he was very consistent with his evidence. He said he had followed directions relayed to him by the PM’s chief of staff, who had told him the instruction to remove Moti came from the Prime Minister.

Assaigo made it quite clear he had no direct communication with the PM and named the three men as "close to the PM" and not himself.

He told the inquiry that on the basis of his evidence being consistent and taking all the blame including being branded a ‘lair,’ he believed that Mr. Rongap, Louma and Kalinoe were part of the conspiracy to brand him a lair.

Kawi put it to Assaigo, "Was Sir Michael part of the conspiracy?" Assaigo said: "No."

The inquiry will rule on the application to disband the inquiry today.

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