Cook Islands Corruption Trial Exposes Business Dealings Of Former Minister

Chinese fishing executive reportedly sought favors from Bishop 

By Losirene Chand 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, July 6, 2016) – Details of former Minister of Marine Resources, Teina Bishop and his “close relationship” with a Chinese fishing vessel executive, who allegedly sought favours, were presented before Judge Justice Colin Doherty and members of the jury at the Cook Islands High Court yesterday.

On the second day of trial, Cook Islands Police Service prosecutor Nick Williams told the court about the fishing company related to the case, and its stakeholders.

Bishop, who held the Marine Resources portfolio between December 2010 and January 2014, is on trial on a charge of corruption relating to his dealings with international fishing company Luen Thai.

Williams while informing the court about some aspects of the charges Bishop is facing, said Luen Thai Fishing Venture Ltd, a Chinese fishing company based in Hong Kong, started working under foreign commercial fishing licences in the Cook Islands in 2011.

He said the company was the largest seafood fishing companies in the Asia-Pacific region.

“In Bishop’s case, the Luen Thai Fishing Venture - according to a website, every year supplies about 11,000 tonnes of fresh tuna and other seafood products to Japan, USA, UK and China.”

Williams said Luen Thai Fishing Venture was owned by a parent company Luen Thai International Group which also owned China Southern Fishery.

“To complete the chain of companies that are relevant (to this case), we have got Huanan Fishery Cook Islands Company Limited that was owned by China Southern Fishery and a man name Samuel Chou.”

Chou, chief operating officer of Luen Thai Fishing since 2007, is alleged to have acted as Bishop’s advisor during the latter’s days as a cabinet minister.

The two are alleged to have had discussions on a broad range of topics including plans for expanding operations in the Cook Islands, fuel prices, taxes, and infrastructure.

Williams said between 2011 and 2014, Chou and Bishop “developed a close relationship and regularly communicated on Skype.”

“In March, 2011 the government of the Cook Islands and Luan Thai entered into a memorandum of understanding on fishing issues and was signed by Bishop and Chou on behalf of the respective parties.

“In a letter to Bishop dated April 3, 2012, Chou summarised that China Southern Fishery had already been granted eight fishing licenses to fish in Cook Islands waters and Chou set up his plans to expand the company’s fishing operations in the Cook Islands while getting another 12 licenses in 2012.

“Chou asked Bishop’s help to get those licenses.”

Williams said under his portfolio as marine resources minister, Bishop was responsible for the administration of the Marine Act,

He said the main objective of the Act was to provide for the sustainable use of the Cook Islands fishery resource for the benefit of the Cook Islands people.

The Act also set out a licensing regime for commercial fishing, he added.

“The time we are interested in is when Ben Ponia was secretary of Ministry of Marine Resources and the secretary was responsible for maintaining a register of all fishing licenses issued,” Williams said.

“There was a limit or a cap on the total number of licenses that could be issued.”

“So for the main fishery of tuna long-lining, the cap was 40 and that cap or limit went up to 50 in June 2012.”

Williams also told the court of the importance of Bishop’s position as a then-Minister of the Crown.

He said the integrity of Cook Islands parliament was to be protected and maintained, with trust and confidence in Cook Islands legislative representatives.

Reading from a cabinet manual, he reminded the jury of the responsibilities of a minister.

Williams said the cabinet was a group of ministers responsible to parliament.

“The last paragraph in the cabinet manual is number 39 which states that a minister must not solicit or accept from any person giving monetary or any other benefit discharged over the duty of his office.

“The minister must not accept any benefit, advantage or promises from him to any immediate family of any business associated with seeking to have any relationship with government.”

Williams said ministers should perform their duty without self-interest but with the interests of the Cook Islands in mind, and should avoid any conflicts of interest.

Cook Islands News
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