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Judge tosses case for lack of evidence

By Kiery Manassah

PORT VILA (Vanuatu Daily Post, Aug. 11, 2008) - Caretaker Minister for Lands Maxime Carlot Korman has been let off the hook in the bribery claims he was facing over the Lelepa land lease he had tried to grant Mr Gilbert Trinh of Turgoise Ltd for an alleged amount of 3 million vatu [US$32,432].

He has been cleared because the court could not rely on the evidence of the main witness in the case, former First Political Advisor to the Ministry of Lands Pedre Malsungai, who is now VNP Secretary General.

However Supreme Court Judge Christopher Tuohy who ended his contract last Friday issued orders to cancel the lease granted to Mr Trinh—ruling in favour of Albert Solomon who had challenged the granting of the lease.

Solomon can now breathe a sigh of relief as his business Lelepa Tours is situated on part the land in question.

The judge said he could not rely on the evidence of Mr Malsungai over the issue of bribe because he believed the witness was only doing it for money and under the relevant laws judges must be careful and must treat such evidences with caution.

The judge said he believed Malsungai might have been an accomplice to the alleged crime.

Apparently, the former First PA had tried to get both Mr Albert and Mr Trinh to pay him Vt1.5 million as precondition for him either testifying (on behalf of Solomon) or withdrawing the statement against his former boss and close ally, Korman.

"Malsungai knew what he was saying. He did it for money and he tried to sell his evidence to whoever would provide Vt1.5 million to him quickly.

"I am unable to have confidence in his evidence," said the judge.

But Justice Tuohy said he was impressed by some of the things Malsungai said during cross-examination—especially his reference to specific examples of past practises where similar activities might have taken place.

Korman, the first Vanuatu State Minister to take the witness had said during cross-examination it would be against his conscience to receive a bribe—branding Mr Malsungai a liar.

"I have never, ever received any money, never received Pedre and Mr Trinh in my office. Never.

"That is a lie," Mr Korman insisted, when pressed by Daniel Iawah, that he had signed Mr Trinh’s lease ahead of Mr Solomon’s of Lelepa Tours because he had received the bribe.

Korman explained he granted the lease to Mr Trinh because he had the money to develop the land which is 22-hectares in size.

The land was valued at Vt20 million by Caillard & Kaddour and Vt15 million by the Land Valuation Unit of the Department of Lands.

Mr Trinh bought it for Vt12 million.

The land in question had already been determined in two separate village level tribunals that it belonged to the Kalsuak family.

However the losing parties appealed the decision to the Efate Lands Tribunal whose decision is still pending.

The judge noted that the Kalsuak family would find themselves in a very awkward position if the court allowed the lease granted to Mr Trinh to stand, especially once a final determination of the Efate Lands Tribunal has been made and it was found the land truly belonged to the Kalsuaks.

The Kalsuaks gave permission to Solomon to develop the land.

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