Arrest Warrant Against PNG Prime Minister Stands

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By Jacob Pok

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, July 2, 2014) – The Waigani National Court yesterday refused the application by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to stop a warrant of arrest against him.

That means it is now up to Police Commissioner Geoffrey Vaki whether to enforce the warrant of arrest against the Prime Minister. It is also understood the Prime Minister’s lawyers would file an appeal against the decision at the Supreme Court.

[PIR editor’s note: Radio Australia reported that "Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill says he will respect the court's decision to allow the police commissioner to pursue an arrest warrant against him."]

The warrant of arrest issued by police some three weeks ago was in relation to the controversial payment of more than K71 million in legal bills to Paul Paraka Lawyers.

Investigations by police fraud officers with the assistance of the recently disbanded Investigations Task Force Sweep implicated Mr O’Neill, Finance Minister James Marape, then Treasury Minister Don Polye and several other high ranking government officers in what police claim were fraudulent payments to the law firm.

Mr O’Neill was implicated as the alleged author of a letter requesting the Finance and Treasury departments to approve the payments.

Then Police Commissioner Tom Kulunga wrote to Mr O’Neill advising him to comply with a warrant of arrest and call in for police interview over the allegations.

However, Mr O’Neill refused to comply with the warrant of arrest, claiming that it was wrongly issued and was politically-motivated. He then asked his lawyers to file an urgent application at the National Court to stay the warrant of arrest pending the determination of a taxation proceeding which Finance Minister James Marape filed to justify the legality of the payments to Paraka Lawyers.

Other parties involved in the matter, including police, agreed to Mr O’Neill’s application and asked the court to grant a stay on the arrest warrant.

In a 16-page decision, presiding judge Justice Ere Kariko, after going through the submissions, found that most of the submissions by all parties focused on whether the court should exercise its discretionary power to restrain the police from effecting an arrest.

Justice Kariko said the court was however concerned that an exercise of that discretionary power could interfere with the functions of police under section 197 of the Constitution.

[PIR editor’s note: According to Radio Australia "In his ruling, Justice Ere Kariko said only in the clearest cases of abuse of police power should the court intervene in a police investigation. ... He said in this case there was
no such evidence of abuse of power."
]

The judge also inclined to exercise the courts discretion to endorse a proposed consent order on the basis that the police force was not a party to the substantive proceedings, there was no relevance of the interim orders when the substantive matter relates to taxation of costs.

The judge also refused submissions by the prime minister’s lawyer regarding a "rift" in the ranks of the police force caused by officers involved in the criminal investigations.

"I find this submission to be speculative and without proper evidentiary basis," the judge said.

"Importantly though, I reiterate that the administration and control of the police force is vested in the Commissioner of Police under the Constitution.

"Administrative matters are for him to resolve and not this court. The fact that the police commissioner agrees not to arrest the plaintiffs is a matter for him also."

He said there was no need for the court’s endorsement on how the commissioner should discharge his constitutional duties and functions.

He dismissed the application and adjourned the matter to June 6 for the substantive hearing of the taxation case before Justice Catharine Davani.

PNG Post-Courier
Copyright © 2014 PNG Post-Courier. All Rights Reserved

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