5 Dec 2003

Vanuatu confirms Australian police presence in fraud probe

5:14 pm on 5 December 2003

The Vanuatu government has confirmed that Australian Federal Police have been involved in an ongoing investigation of the Vanuatu Maritime Authority.

Earlier this week the acting director of the VMA, John Les Napuati, accused Australia of interfering in Vanuatu's domestic affairs after AFP officers conducted an undercover search of his office computers..

All the Australian Federal Police will say is that the role of its two liaison officers attached to the High Commission is to help Vanuatu deal with trans national crime and to share intelligence.

But the Prime Minister's spokesman, Daniel Bangtor, says the police were brought in at the request of Vanuatu police.

He says this was to investigate allegations involving the VMA management and the former Fisheries Minister Stephen Kalsakau and focussing on licences granted to two foreign trawlers.

Mr Bangtor says Mr Napuati has no basis for his complaint.

"If it's an initiative taken by themselves then it can't be questioned but when it's an assistance that is requested by Vanuatu police that's a different story altogether."