PNG prime minister can't shake fraud allegations
The latest developments in the increasingly murky case involving allegations of corruption around the prime minister of Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea's anti-fraud and corruption unit says it's a step closer to arresting the Prime Minister Peter O'Neill over a major fraud case.
A Supreme Court judge and a lawyer representing Mr O'Neill were arrested on Monday in Port Moresby.
And last night the Attorney General was arrested.
Johnny Blades reports.
JOHNNY BLADES: This all stems back to a probe by anti-fraud officers into alleged corruption within PNG's Finance Department. Two years ago they basically issued a warrant of arrest for Peter O'Neill over his role in allegedly illegal state payments of around 30 million US dollars to this law firm. The prime minister's lawyers at the time managed to get a number of stay orders placed on the arrest warrant and the probe. But last week, PNG's Supreme court lifted the stay order on the investigation, allowing the fraud unit's work on this probe to resume. These arrests this week, of the Supreme Court judge, the prime minister's lawyer and now the Attorney-General have followed quickly. But they're still unable to arrest the prime minister due to another stay order, just on a sort of technicality around the arrest warranty
PATRICK O'MEARA: Now these arrests that have taken place, why was that?
JB: So the Supreme Court judge Bernard Sakora was charged with accepting a payment from a lawyer linked to the law firm at the centre of this whole fraud case.
PO: So he was donkey deep in it, allegedly?
JB: It's very serious, isn't it, when a Supreme Court judge is covered in these sort of allegations. But for PNG, which has a corruption problem that we've heard a lot about, the judiciary was really seen as the most robust of its institutions, so I think that people are quite shocked about what has emerged.
PO: What has the prime minister had to say about this?
JB: He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and says he has nothing to hide. But he's also refused to go in for questioning. People would say, why don't you go in and clear your name, as it were? But since the arrest warrant was initially sought for him in 2014, he has sidelined a number of top officials, people who have either facilitated the probe or have called for him to step aside. But he can't seem to fully stem the fallout from it, because he sacked the Attorney-General but the new Attorney-General has been arrested for perverting the course of justice in relation to this; he sacked the police commissioner then the replacement police commissioner was sent to jail for three years for basically perverting the course of justice. So it's a total mess but the prime minister is standing firm.
PO: But the noose is tightening around his neck.
JB: Exactly, the pressure he's under is intense. But he's been resourceful so far in managing to knock this matter into the courts on any number of technicalities. But the public are fed up with it, so I wouldn't discount there being protests and the pressure building even further.
PO: Do you expect him to be arrested?
JB: Well if they can get the stay order lifted, which is what the fraud squad is zeroing in on, he will be arrested, I'd say. But, as I said, he has been so... well, canny about being able to knock this into the courts, and the PNG court system does move rather glacially, so it's a matter of time before something gives.
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