18 Dec 2003

Cook Islands PM denies Lyon payment is a bond

5:01 pm on 18 December 2003

The Cook Islands prime minister, Dr Robert Woonton, has defended his decision to grant convicted New Zealand businessman Mark Lyon a 12-month residency.

A public rally was held in Rarotonga last week to protest against Lyon's residency, following claims he paid a 150 thousand New Zealand dollar bond to secure the permit.

Dr Woonton denies that the money paid by Lyon into a trust account held by his lawyer Norman George, who is also Dr Woonton's advisor, is a bond.

Despite Mr George's claim the money is strictly a bond in case Lyon reoffends, Dr Woonton says the payment is routine for those who express interest in investing in the Cook Islands.

And the prime minister says Lyon has a right to stay in the Cook Islands.

"As a New Zealander, we have to extend to him the same privileges we have extended to others before him irrespective of whether they have been convicted of any previous crimes in their own countries. As far as the Cook Islands is concerned Mr Lyon hasn't been convicted of any crimes in our country."

Organisers of a march to protest at the presence of Lyon in Rarotonga have said they won't accept his open letter to Cook Islanders asking to be allowed to stay in the country.

Organisers will be writing to the Public Expenditure Review Committee and Audit to investigate the 150 thousand New Zealand dollar bond placed by Lyon into a trust account held by MP Norman George.

Mr George, who is chief advisor to the Prime Minister and Minister of Immigration Dr Robert Woonton, is also Lyon's lawyer.

The group will also be asking for PERCA to examine immigration laws to establish if these were broken by the prime minister.

A call will also be made upon cabinet and caucus to act and add pressure to the prime minister to revoke Lyon's 12-month residency permit.

One of the organisers, businessman Sam Crocombe, says if the prime minister and cabinet fail to act, a petition will be launched in the first week of February with further protest marches in the new year.