9 Mar 2005

Cook Islands Speaker criticised in audit report

11:17 am on 9 March 2005

The Cook Islands Speaker and former MP, Norman George, is under fire from an Audit report over legal fees paid to him for defending the crew of a Taiwanese fishing vessel in 2002/03.

The Cook Islands News says the Audit office found it highly improper that the government was responsible for paying Mr George's legal fees when he was acting for the arrested crew against the government.

The report says the financial secretary Kevin Carr wrote in a letter that he was advised by the then prime minister, Dr Robert Woonton, that he had engaged Mr George to assist in negotiating an agreement with the crew.

Cabinet then approved the transfer of ownership of a government vehicle to Mr George in lieu of the fees and without tendering the vehicle.

It also notes another letter from a senior crown counsel, stating that George was instructed by the Taiwanese crew to represent them when the vessel was arrested.

The report notes that in the normal course of business, the crew would be responsible for paying for the legal fees.