Tonga Police Commissioner: MPs Drug Allegations 'Unfounded' And Other Criticisms Unwarranted

Comments made regarding Parliamentary review of 2012 drug seizure of 200 kg of cocaine, pushback on suggestion of culture of corruption

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, February 10, 2017) – A large haul of illicit drugs seized in Vava’u from a yacht called 'JeReVe' in 2012 was destroyed by authorities in Australia, Tonga's Police Commissioner Stephen Caldwell confirmed today in response to allegations raised in Parliament on Monday, February 6.

He said the illicit drugs were destroyed by the appropriate authorities in Australia on March 6, 2013.

The Commissioner said he personally reviewed this matter, and is satisfied that the illcit drugs seized by Tonga Police was properly receipted and analysed at an Australian Drug Laboratory, following a request from Tonga Police for Australian Federal Police assistance, confirming it was cocaine.

Allegations were made at the start of the 2017 session of Parliament during debate on the Annual Report of the Minister of Police. A Nobles Representative Lord Tu’ilakepa, asked what happened to hundreds of kilos of cocaine found in yacht in Vava’u [in 2012]. The Minister of Police, Hon. Vuna Fa’otusia, responded to the question in whole house committee that they would never get an answer to that question until they changed the law, so that the Police Commissioner reports to Parliament instead of to Privy Council.

Commissioner Caldwell said today that the comments were unfounded and attacked the reputation of the police.

"Continually defaming Tonga Police and senior police officers without any apparent foundation is highly detrimental to the reputation of the Tonga Police and undermines the respect and trust that we are trying to earn with our service to the community," he said.

Dead body

There was no prosecution initiated in relation to this seizure because no person was found to be in possession of the illicit drugs, and investigations did not identify persons responsible for transporting the illicit drugs on the yacht through Tongan waters. The 'JeReVe' ran aground on a reef in Vava’u, and a body of a deceased European male was discovered on the yacht, already decomposed.

The Commissioner said he had previously reported his findings to Government on April 28, 2016, and also followed up with a suggestion on October 3, 2016 to have this matter independently audited by the Auditor General and the Ombudsman, to provide final assurances on the concerns raised by MPs.

“The unfounded comments attack the reputation of all the good police officers who come to work every day to do their best, and are faced with dangerous situations and life’s tragedies that no one else has to deal with."

Commissioner Caldwell said it is accepted that, like any other organisation in the Kingdom and the world, the Tonga Police is not free from corruption, misconduct or criminal activities by its personnel, "however, there is absolutely zero tolerance for such actions in Tonga Police and Police Officers will be held accountable with the full force of the law. 

"To members of the public have specific allegations, I would encourage them to bring it to my personal attention. I take matters of integrity and honesty very seriously," he said.

Commissioner Caldwell said that under the Tonga Police Act, the Police Board, through recommendations from the Police Executive Committee, has already terminated the employment of 12 police officers in the past five years in relation to serious misconduct or loss of confidence in their performance. There have also been five police officers convicted in the Supreme Court for serious criminal offences in the past five years. He said there are currently 14 criminal investigations underway against police officers conducted by the Tonga Police Professional Standards Unit. This is in addition to 28 disciplinary investigations underway, directed by the Commissioner.

Largest seizure

When the 'JeReVe' case was reported in 2012, it was confirmed that more than 200 kilograms of cocaine worth an estimated street value of AUD $116 million dollars in Australia, was seized by Tongan authorities on the wreck on this yacht that ran aground on a reef off Luatafito Atoll in Vava'u.

At the time Police believed it to be one of the largest seizure of narcotics in the South Pacific region.

The cocaine was found on the yacht together with the remains of Milan Rindzak (35) of Slovakian nationality. The badly decomposed body was found by local divers on November 7, 2012 who spotted the yacht on the reef.

Australian Federal Police received information from the US Drug Enforcement Agency during August 2012 that a small yacht carrying cocaine was enroute from Equador to Australia, and an investigation started.

Matangi Tonga Magazine
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