TONGA’S SPEAKER STILL FREE DESPITE ARREST WARRANT

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TONGA’S SPEAKER STILL FREE DESPITE ARREST WARRANT Lord Lasike remains in U.S., weapons charge awaits him at home

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Jan. 13, 2012) – An arrest warrant for Lord Lasike, the Speaker of the Tonga Legislative Assembly, has not been actioned, while it is understood that he remains in the United States.

Lasike defied the conditions of a court order and breached his bail on a charge under the firearms and ammunition act when he traveled to the USA in November last year.

He is expected to appear for his next court hearing in Tonga on January 20.

Yesterday the Supreme Court in Nuku'alofa confirmed that Lasike had not been arrested, and the Parliament's Office staff confirmed that the Speaker had not returned to work.

On December 23, last year the Chief Justice Hon Michael Dishington Scott issued a warrant for Lord Lasike's arrest upon arrival into Tonga, acting on a breach of bail notice filed by the Solicitor General 'Aminiasi Kefu.

Lasike, charged with one count of unlawful possession of ammunition for .22 rifles, was initially set to appear for arraignment on November 11 at the Supreme Court.

On November 10, he successfully filed an application notice for variation of bail, for permission to travel overseas on a parliamentary trip to Israel from November 14 to December 17, 2011. His application was granted by Justice Robert Shuster with the consent of the Crown Law, and his passport was released to him, to be returned to the court upon his return to Tonga. Under the order, his local bail was extended to January 20, 2012, when he is scheduled to appear at the Supreme Court in Nuku'alofa, for arraignment before Justice Shuster.

But Lasike did not travel to Israel, and instead went to the United States.

Three Noble's Representatives

The Police Prosecution Office also confirmed that two other nobles Lord Tu'ilakepa and Lord Tu'iha'ateiho , face charges on separate firearms and drugs offences, and are set to appear at the Magistrate's Court in Nuku'alofa this month.

A former Speaker and re-elected Vava'u Noble's Representative Lord Tu'ilakepa is set to appear in the lower court at Fasi on January 16, when a date will be set for his Preliminary Inquiry on counts that include possession of illegal firearms, possession of illegal ammunition and possession of an illicit drug.

Another Noble's Representative, Lord Tu'iha'ateiho (Ha'apai) charged with possession of an illegal firearm, will have his case called on January 23 , when a date will be set for a Preliminary Inquiry to start at the lower court.

The Tongan Legislature on October 11, last year slashed the maximum penalty for the illegal possession of firearms from $5000 to $1000 [US$2,868 to $573], and from five years imprisonment to only one year.

[PIR editor’s note: Prime Minister Lord Tu'ivakano has called on Lasike to resign from his position based on his actions. The prime minister said that Tonga's parliament needed qualified staff to operate efficiently, and as that fell to the responsibility of the Speaker, Lasike should resign immediately upon returning to Tonga.]

However, this move by parliament to reduce penalties for possession of firearms offences was stopped by Tonga's king who withheld his Royal assent.

King George Tupou V notified parliament in December that he had withheld his Royal assent to the Arms and Ammunitions (Amendment) Act 2011 because it was considered to be "inimical to the welfare, well-being and safety of His subjects."

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