Cook Islands Wants Court To Seize Assets Of Convicted Former Minister

Bishop convicted of bribery; law allows for forfeiture of ill-gotten gains

By Cameron Scott 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, May 17, 2017) – An application has been made to the Civil Division of the High Court to seize the assets of Aitutaki Village Ltd, a company owned by jailed former One Cook Islands leader and MP Teina Bishop.

Earlier this year, former Ministry of Marine Resources Minister Bishop was jailed for six months after being found guilty of corruptly obtaining a bribe as a Minister of the Crown.

The application was made by Solicitor General David James under the seldom-used Proceeds of Crime Act 2003.

According to documents filed in the High Court, the Solicitor General has applied for forfeiture orders against the assets of Aitutaki Village Ltd, or a pecuniary penalty order against Bishop for the benefits he derived from corruptly obtaining a bribe.

The Solicitor General is also seeking an inquiry under three sections of the Proceeds of Crime Act to determine all of Bishop’s property as of April 3 this year, the date the application was filed, and all property held by him as at July 10, 2013 when the purchase of the assets of Aitutaki Village Ltd was settled. According to documents obtained from the High Court yesterday, the inquiry, under sections 27, 29 and 30 of the Proceeds of Crimes Act, is being sought on the grounds that Aitutaki Village Ltd is “tainted property” under the Act. That is because the $250,000 [US$172,000] constituting the bribe was obtained in the form of a loan given to allow for Bishop’s purchase of the tainted property.

A pecuniary penalty order can be an additional or alternative order made in the event that the resort is found to be a viable continuing commercial operation and that it is best to allow it to continue as a going concern. 

The order can also be made if there are other persons with an interest in the property who are entitled to the benefit of its continuing operation.

The application and supporting minute have been served on Bishop, on AVL at its registered office and on Westpac Banking Corporation and Century Finance Company Ltd. A memorandum as to service suggests Century Finance Company might be served through Luen Thai International. Those served were given 28 days from the date of service to file an appearance or a notice of opposition.

Directors of AVL are listed as Bishop and Thomas Koteka, while shareholders last listed in 2015 are Bishop and his wife Annie, Koteka and his wife Elizabeth, Maria Bishop, Tania Bishop, Naomi Bishop, Evaraima Koteka, Teumere Koteka, and Vaineritua Koteka.

Following a jury trial last year, Bishop was initially sentenced to 28 months’ imprisonment on corruption charges. 

The case involved a loan obtained by Bishop from a subsidiary of a foreign fishing company and the subsequent granting of fishing licences.

It marked the first time a sentence of imprisonment had been handed down to a Cook Islander for corrupt activities while serving as a minister of the Crown.

The sentence was appealed and in December last year, Bishop’s jail term was slashed to six months.

At the time, Chief Justice Sir Hugh Williams 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. 

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.

Bishop’s trial followed a three-year police investigation into allegations of suspect dealings between the former Cabinet minister and Luen Thai.

Cook Islands News
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