PNG's Prime Minister resists arrest over Paraka payments
Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister resists an arrest warrant over the alleged illegal payments to Paraka Lawfirm and announces another commission of inquiry into the matter while discrediting those behind the warrant.
Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister has survived another day after being served with an arrest warrant on Monday over alleged corrupt payments to a law firm.
It's been a tumultuous few days in PNG politics, with the country's police commissioner announcing his retirement after being convicted and sentenced to seven months jail and then bailed.
Our reporter Jamie Tahana has been following the story and spoke to Johnny Blades.
JB: So this follows on from a previous warrant against Peter O'Neill in January?
JT: Yes, back in January arrest warrants were issued against Peter O'Neill and two other cabinet ministers for alleged corrupt payments worth US$29 million to a law firm headed by Paul Paraka. But these were sidelined in court after it was found that the police officers who issued the warrant did not follow proper procedure.
At the time, the Police Commissioner Tom Kulunga, said it brought the impartiality of the police force into question. The argument against Peter O'Neill basically comes down to a letter that allegedly came from his office authorising the payments to Paul Paraka lawyers with his signature on it, which he has repeatedly claimed was forged.
JB: So why has it resurfaced all of a sudden?
JT: Well it's not exactly clear, the investigation is headed by the anti-corruption investigative unit Task Force Sweep - which was actually established by Peter O'Neill - and its head, Sam Koim, says that forensic evidence from Australia that reportedly says that the signature on the letter was in fact Peter O'Neill's, there are also other reports that Task Force Sweep was handed a whole bunch of evidence from the former Treasurer Don Polye. Mr Polye was dumped from cabinet in March after he refused to sign a billion dollar loan to the government and causing instability in cabinet.
JB: And how has it all unfolded, it began with the police commissioner being convicted didn't it?
JT: Yep, the entree to this feast of political scandal began on Friday, when the police commissioner Tom Kulunga was convicted on contempt of court charges for failing to reinstate Geoffrey Vaki as Assistant Commissioner of Police Operations after he had been suspended, on cabinet orders, in 2012 and was sentenced to seven months in jail. However, he's currently on bail pending an appeal. However, on Tuesday he announced that he would voluntarily step down as commissioner. Geoffrey Vaki has now been appointed as the acting commissioner.
JB: Peter O'Neill has refused to go in for questioning?
JT: Yes he has so far declined the invitation to head down to the police fraud office for an interview. Reports emerging say he had holed up in Parliament, instead sending his lawyers down to the National Court to seek an injunction to scrap the arrest warrants. This application was heard on Tuesday morning, but was adjourned until this morning [Wednesday] at 9:30 local time where a decision is likely to be made. So for now, a temporary restraining order was issued by the court yesterday until that hearing this morning, which police have said they will comply by until 9:30am.
JB: What has Peter O'Neill said?
JT: He's strongly denied the allegations describing his warrant as a politically motivated stunt that's based on false allegations and vowed to defend himself. In fact, at a news conference in Parliament yesterday in which he was surrounded by cabinet ministers, he went as far as announcing a Commission of Inquiry to look into all the legal fees paid to Paraka Lawyers. That has raised some eyebrows among observers who see it as a delaying tactic. And after all, there was already a commission of inquiry into the whole issue of the illegal payments to the law firm last year.
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