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Case remains open but sufficient evidence not available

NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, April 5, 2011) - The Ashika case had been the largest and perhaps the most important investigation in the history of the Tonga Police and there are no plans to lay any further charges relating to the disaster, Police Commissioner Chris Kelley said this morning, April 5, during the Police’s weekly media briefing.

Commissioner Kelley said that even though the Ashika case would never be closed, the issue was about having sufficient evidence.

"One can’t lay charges without evidence," he said.

Commissioner Kelley said that a Police Taskforce undertook the Ashika investigation and investigated the detailed actions of those involved in the purchase, management and operation of the Princess Ashika for the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia Ltd. (SCP).

All evidence was reviewed by the Crown Law office in Tonga and legal opinions of individual culpability were given.

"Where prima facie evidence existed in regards to a person’s actions, those persons and a corporate body were charged because they had enough negligent behavior to amount to gross negligence," he said.

"That is to say, an accused person does or omits to do something which he knows is a danger yet he does not care about the risks and still chose to create such risks; and someone dies because of that risk and in this case, Vaefetu΄u Mahe and 73 others."

He said charges were laid against the SCP, the captain, the first mate and the Acting Director of Marine as the police investigation had shown that the significant cause of the sinking and the 74 deaths were mainly that of these four men and the ferry operator.

The culpability of others was also considered during their investigation, and in some cases shortcomings amounting to negligence were evident, but he said that in the opinion of the Crown Law office it was not to the criminal standard known as "gross negligence".

"I always had confidence in the team of the Tongan investigators led by APC Fa’aoa and D/CIP Vaihu," he said.

He also commended the professionalism of the Crown Law led by Solicitor General ‘Aminiasi Kefu, evident in the presentation of the Crown’s case.

The four men were convicted on all charges by a jury on April 1 and were sentenced by Mr. Justice Shuster in the Nuku΄alofa Supreme Court yesterday.

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