PNG court invalidates arrest warrants against PM
The opposition leader in Papua New Guinea is denying an accusation by the prime minister that he is conspiring to overthrow the government.
The Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has ordered a police investigation into the manner in which three sets of warrants were obtained for the arrest of him and two senior cabinet ministers.
The warrants were issued by the Waigani District Court last year and obtained by senior constable Robert Ewail from the National Fraud and Anti-corruption Directorate.
The Prime Minister Peter O'Neill told Beverley Tse he believes they were issued outside of the usual lawful process.
PETER O'NEILL: This is relating to some payments that the finance department has made to a certain legal firm which has been questioned by our Task Force Sweep that is investigating some high-profile cases where government payments they were not entitled to. It's in relation to some letters that have been forged out of the prime minister's office to try and facilitate some of these payments. Now, this matter is under the jurisdiction of the task force. But unfortunately some rogue policeman in collaboration with the leader of the opposition has gone about and got some warrants from the lower courts in order to facilitate for an arrest. This is merely a political stunt. It has got nothing to do with the case itself. The case has been investigated professionally and done by a proven team of investigators. They will make sure that necessary actions are taken when evidence is compiled. So we have taken a stay order on those warrants and we are now conducting an investigation into how a junior police officer is able to walk into a courthouse and take up orders. So that is precisely the situation at the present. I am certain that we will work our way through it. It is just a pitiful stunt that the opposition leader is conducting in PNG.
BEVERLEY TSE: So do you think Belden Namah is trying to ruin your reputation?
PO: Precisely. Belden Namah is renowned for these kind of political stunts. Not so longer he tried to get the chief justice arrested. He is a person who has got the reputation in the country where he has tried to overthrow a legitimate government before. So this is not unexpected. Papua New Guineans are not silly, but unfortunately it attracts the wrong attention and gives a bad image to our country's judicial system.
BT: What sort of ramifications or implications could Belden Namah and the police officer who obtained the warrants face if Task Force Sweep actually finds them guilty?
PO: I will wait for the investigations to be conducted and let that matter be a matter for the police and Task Force Sweep to handle. I'm not going to engage in the style of operation that Belden Namah has been accustomed to. I think it's important that we respect the rule of law. Agencies or governments should do their job independently and professionally without political interference. So we'll allow that process to take place.
BT: Are you worried in any way or do you feel threatened in any way by these warrants?
PO: I have no issue whatsoever. I'm certain that when the truth comes out it will be clearly explained to the nation how these payments were made through the finance department. And these matters have happened over 10 years. It's not just a matter that just happened last night. So Papua New Guineans are aware of these corruption issues regarding the same law firm that's been around for 10 years. We will get to the bottom of it. This government, to its credit, is the only government in 40 years of independence in this country that has taken on corruption issues as the number one priority of government to try and address.
BT: Are you concerned at the fact that these warrants were in fact granted? Regardless of which police officer went to get it, are you worried that the court actually issued them in the first place?
PO: Precisely. We have got some issues with the law courts, where such warrants are given without proper processes being followed. And we are now talking to our attorney general and of course the chief magistrate to try and address these issues.
BT: As I understand from your press conference with the media, you had mentioned that the magistrate who is responsible for issuing the warrant is actually on leave, is that right? What's the situation?
PO: He has conveniently issued a warrant and then taken leave as a matter of course, and taken court files with him. We are not able to even locate the court files in the courthouse. So these are things that are unprecedented and outside the normal process of conducting an investigation and conducting court cases. So it would allow the police to do their investigations, and he is also a subject of that investigation.
BT: Does it seem suspicious to you, these actions of the court?
PO: It is a concern to us and this, as I said, has been happening for quite some time, not only in this case, but other cases. And it is now time for us to take some very tough decisions on how we allow courts to conduct themselves in the country.
BT: These warrants were also issued to arrest the treasurer, Don Polye, and the finance minister, James Marape. Are you concerned that they were issued warrants or do you feel like you have their full confidence?
PO: No, I have allowed the proper investigations that have been conducted to be concluded properly. I cannot pre-empt the outcomes of those investigations. But let me put it very clearly - the rule of law must be followed, the processes must be followed. We have got a judiciary that is independent and the conduct of a single magistrate does not reflect the position of our judiciary system in the country. We will get to the bottom of it and we will allow the police to carry out their duties and carry out investigations into this matter. I think, all in all, Papua New Guinea is starting to enjoy a level of growth and development in the country and these kind of things are merely a pitiful stunt designed to distract us. I'm certain that we'll get over it and we'll move forward.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: