Anti-Corruption Task Force Issues Arrest Warrant For PNG Prime Minister

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O’Neill denies charges of authorizing illegal payments to law firm

By PNG correspondent Liam Cochrane and staff

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, June 17, 2014) – Papua New Guinea’s anti-corruption task force says fresh evidence shows PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has acted "dishonestly and corruptly" in a case involving $28 million [US$26.3 million] in legal fees paid by the Government.

An arrest warrant was served on Mr O'Neill on Monday, but his legal team arranged a stay in proceeding.

Mr O'Neill has vowed to defend himself against what he describes as a "politically motivated stunt".

A key piece of evidence in the corruption investigation is a letter seemingly signed by Mr O'Neill authorising his Finance Minister James Marape to pay the legal fees.

Mr O'Neill has dismissed the letter as a forgery.

However, a leaked "very confidential" letter from the chairman of Taskforce Sweep, Sam Koim, to PNG’s police commissioner outlines the new evidence that led to the arrest warrant.

"We have now received the Forensic Examination Report from the Sydney based Forensic Document Services Pty Ltd confirming that the signature on the letter ... directing payments to Paraka Lawyers is PM O’Neill’s," Mr Koim said.

[PIR editor’s note: In January 2014 it was reported that "Arrest warrants [had] been issued for the Prime Minister O'Neill, Treasurer Don Polye and Finance Minister James Marape. ... The warrants were sought last November by an investigator with the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate. … They were issued after an investigation into government payments of millions of dollars to a Port Moresby legal firm." At the time O’Neill dismissed the charges as coming from the wrong agency since Taskforce Sweep was conducting the investigation into payment to Paul Paraka’s law firm while the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate issued the arrest warrants. O’Neill alleged that "rogue police officers within the force are being directed by opposition leader Belden Namah to conduct a 'Kangaroo Court' in breach of proper processes."]

Letter adds to evidence

Taskforce Sweep said a subsequent letter from Mr O’Neill to Mr Marape adds weight to the evidence.

"In that letter, PM O’Neill attempted to clarify his previous letter… and in doing so, confirms the existence of the first letter of 24 January 2012 which he openly denied," Mr Koim said.

The confidential correspondence to the Police Commissioner shows that evidence and a sworn statement was provided by recently-sacked Treasure Don Polye.

In March, Mr Polye was removed from Cabinet for refusing to sign a $1.2 billion [US$1.1 billion] loan from the Australian branch of UBS bank.

"After reassessing the case and analysing the available evidentiary materials, we have reached a considered belief that PM O’Neill acted dishonestly and corruptly when he directed Paul Paraka Lawyers outstanding legal bills to be settled in full," Mr Koim said.

"A conspiratorial line between Mr Paul Paraka and PM O’Neill is also visible from our analysis."

The Taskforce Sweep chairman also said there was "more than sufficient evidence" to mount a case of misappropriation, conspiracy to defraud and official corruption against Mr O'Neill.

Mr O’Neill responded late Monday, saying "Today has been one of the worst and most tragic days that PNG politics has ever experienced."

He described the arrest warrant as a "politically motivated stunt" by "influenced police officers" designed to destabilise the government.

"We will therefore strongly defend and test this issues raised today in our courts and I can assure you I will be cleared on any of these issues raised," Mr O’Neill said in a media statement.

The arrest warrant has been stayed until a further meeting at the court, expected on Tuesday.

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