TONGAN NOBLE ARRESTED IN MAJOR DRUG PROBE

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Former Speaker Tuilakepa remanded on firearms charges

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Dec. 2, 2010) – A prominent Tongan noble is reportedly under house arrest as part of a police drugs investigation in four countries.

The government-run radio station, Radio Tonga, has confirmed that Noble Tuilakepa, the former Speaker of Tonga's Parliament, has been remanded on firearms charges.

He is reportedly being allowed out of his house to attend parliament.

Arrests have also been made by the Australia Federal Police in Sydney, and the investigation also involves two South American countries.

Tonga Police Commander Chris Kelley told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat that police carried out five search warrants on Thursday, after receiving information from the AFP.

"The search warrants have been issued under the Illicit Drugs Control Act," he said.

"The search warrants were executed on four locations on Tongatapu, the main island, and one location on Vava'u," he said.

"Two further searches are being carried out today."

He says a number of other people are being interviewed in relation to those searches.

Mr Kelley said he was unable to confirm the arrest of Noble Tuilakepa, saying the matter was now before a magistrate's court.

"One male person was arrested here in Tongatapu yesterday and appeared in the Nuku'alofa Magistrates Court on firearms charges," he said.

"The person arrested has been remanded in police custody for seven days. A number of exhibits were received which will require examination and analysis."

Mr Kelley refused to speculate on whether further charges would be laid against the arrested man, but says Tongan police are working with the AFP "in relation to the trans-national investigation".

Noble Tuilakepa has refused to comment about being placed under arrest.

Mr Kelley says Tonga has been used in the past as a transit point for illicit drugs.

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