High Profile Corruption Trials Begin In PNG Court

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Two MPs, co-defendants, face criminal charges

By Adam Mera

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, March 8, 2016) – Several high-profile court cases, including those of two Members of Parliament, went before the National Court’s criminal track for mention at Waigani court house yesterday.

Bogia MP John Hickey is answering to charges of official corruption, abuse of office and misappropriation while fellow MP Western Governor Ati Wobiro is in court for alleged misappropriation, conspiracy to defraud and abuse of office. The Governor’s co-accused are Western Provincial Administrator Dr Modowa Gumoi and a senior official Norman Carl May.

Eremas Wartoto, operator of nationally-owned airline company, Travel Air, is facing four charges - conspiracy, false pretence, misappropriation and money laundering.

Mr Hickey, who is also the chairman of the Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Public Accounts, has been accused of abusing his office by applying for his own use K700,000 [US$224,000] of public funds.

Deputy Chief Justice Sir Gibbs Salika, who presided over all the matters directed Hickey’s lawyer to have Hickey’s pre-trial statement to be ready by next Monday (March 14) when Hickey returns to court. A pre-trial statement is a statement from either the accused or the state prosecutor showing evidence and facts that may be shown in court.

Governor Wobiro and his co-accused allegedly abused their offices, conspired to put to their personal use K7.9 million [US$2.9 million] belonging to the Western Provincial Government thus defrauding the Province of the funds. Both counsel representing the Governor and his co-accused, and the state advised the court that a trial date was not yet set down after having made an application to vacate a trial date that was set earlier for March 7-11.

The court after realising that counsels could not agree on a trial date, set at its own discretion a trial date in April. Justice Salika told the counsel that they have four week to prepare witnesses and trial will begin on April 4.

Mr Wartoto is alleged to have used public funds in the vicinity of K10 million [US$3.2 million] to kick start his airline company.

Justice Salika ordered for the matter to return next Monday as Wartoto has another trial currently underway. The other trial relates to allegations of Mr Wartoto misappropriating K7 million from his other company Sarakolok West Transport (SWT), received for construction works on the Kerevat National High School in East New Britain Province.

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