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President reassigns case, Attorney General claims right to prosecute

By Bernadette H. Carreon KOROR (Palau Horizon, Jan. 25, 2010) - Despite the Supreme Court order, President Johnson Toribiong ordered the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to transfer the prosecution of the $22 billion money laundering case against Senate President Mlib Tmetuchl and his brother Lucius Malsol to the Office of the Special Prosecutor.

The OAG however will not follow the president’s order citing that handing over the case to Special Prosecutor Michael Copeland is a violation of separation of powers doctrine.

Using the president’s letter to the OAG Copeland immediately filed yesterday a motion to substitute the agency as counsel.

"I hereby direct you, pursuant to the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Palau to forthwith transfer this matter to the Special Prosecutor’s Office as so as to remove any perceived appearance of impropriety or actual conflict of interest in the disposition of this case," Toribiong said.

Associate Justice Alexandra Foster in an 18-page order dated January 19, denied the motion of the defendants to disqualify the OAG from prosecuting the case.

However the president cited the order to justify his directive to Attorney General Ernestine Rengiil to move the case to Copeland.

"My decision follows the court’s order, of the same date affirming my ‘authority to remove her (the Attorney General) and to appoint someone else’ so that prosecution may proceed in the highest degree of impartiality, fairness and transparency," the president said in his letter a day after the court order was issued.

The president reminded Rengiil that he has previously advised her not to continue to participate in this case because of a "concurrent conflict between the Republic and the Office of the President to whom you owe both a duty of loyalty."

The president said since the OSP is independent from the Office of the President he is appointing the OSP to represent the Republic in the proceedings.

The president further told Rengiil that the credibility of the entire Executive Branch will be undermined.

Copeland in his motion also asked for a continuance of the arraignment set today for the defendants.

The OAG in its motion to court regarding the Copeland’s motion said that the court has already ruled that there was no conflict that required their disqualification.

"The OSP has no standing to make any motion in the matter and its attempt to insert itself in this matter is in direct contradiction of the Court’s previous order," the motion said.

The OAG stated that they will be present in the arraignment to prosecute the case.

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