Former Cook Islands Minister Loses Appeal; Sentence Reduced To 6 Months

Bishop guilty of corruption for personal loan, resort purchase

By Losirene Lacanivalu

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Dec. 7, 2016) – Former One Cook Islands Party and Member of Parliament Teina Bishop was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment at the Cook Islands High Court yesterday.

The sentencing decision, passed by the Court of Appeal through Justice Sir Ian Barker, Justice Robert Fisher and Justice Barry Paterson, was read out by Chief Justice Hugh Williams.

Bishop was charged with corruption as a Minister for the Crown and found guilty by 11 jurors in August this year. He was sentenced to two years and four months’ imprisonment by Justice Colin Doherty.

However, Bishop was granted bail after his counsel, Rodney Harrison applied for an appeal on his client’s conviction and sentence immediately after the sentence was passed.

Last month Bishop appeared before the Court of Appeal arguing against his sentencing and conviction.

The court heard there were eight grounds for Bishops appeal. However, all of these were dismissed and failed to persuade the court.

But Bishop’s appeal against sentencing on Judge Doherty’s sentencing remarks was apparently allowed by the court.

Chief Justice Williams said the court agreed with Judge Doherty’s sentencing remarks, particularly when he saw that the loan from Century Finance for the purchase of the Samade Resort was really to the appellant (Bishop) and not to Thomas Koteka.

However, Chief Justice Williams said Judge Doherty did not accept that the purchase of the resort was undertaken purely to benefit the inhabitants of Aitutaki.

“Consent for the appellant submitted generally that the sentencing judge had downplayed or failed to take into account the many positive and mitigating factors which were special to the appellant’s situation.”

Justice Williams said the court struggled to decide the appropriate sentence for Bishop and imprisonment would satisfy the need to punish Bishop for his breach as a minister.

“A heavy fine could give rise to a claim that a person of means can buy his or her way out of imprisonment.”

He said prison would affect Bishop’s health and business and place a heavy burden on his wife and family.

However, Justice Williams said the case was unusual. In accepting the benefit (the loan to Koteka making the Samade purchase possible), Bishop had actually been acting on legal advice from lawyer Tony Manarangi.

“Mr Manarangi knew perfectly well that in his role as minister the appellant had granted fishing licences to Luen Thai, that by one means or another the appellant had obtained Luen Thai's agreement to advance a loan which would make the Samade purchase possible; and that the appellant stood to benefit if the purchase proceeded.

 “With that knowledge, Mr Manarangi told the appellant that given that the loan would be to Mr Koteka and would have to be on commercial terms, he did not see anything illegal about it.

“We find it surprising that that advice was given. However, the fact is that the appellant received it and acted accordingly.

“But for that special factor it would have been necessary to impose a much more substantial prison sentence. However, the fact that the appellant was acting on legal advice, in combination with the other mitigating factors we have referred to, allows the court to reduce the prison sentence to one of six months.”

The court directed that Bishop’s medical reports should be sent to the prison superintendent with the request that he should discuss the management of Bishop’s medical condition with Bishop’s wife and medical advisors.

The court also requested that mindful of the effect of the sentence on Bishop’s business and in particular his position as a major employer in Aitutaki, the Minister and Secretary for Justice should give consideration to any request for Bishop’s temporary release under section 18 and 19 of the Prison Act 1969.

Cook Islands News
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