8 Nov 2013

Acting police commissioner in Samoa denies earlier comments on ministers

5:53 pm on 8 November 2013

Samoa's acting Police Commissioner has retracted his confirmation that charges will be laid against the Deputy Prime Minister and an Associate Minister.

On Wednesday, Leiataua Aviga Salale told our correspondent Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia that police would serve the men with charges.

But now Leiataua is denying that's the case and says no decision has been made.

Alex Perrottet has more:

Last month, Muagututagata Peter Ah Him was suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol, and police say they stopped him and tried to take a breath test. Before that could be done, they say Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo drove by and told his fellow minister to drive away. The police report was leaked to the Samoa Observer, and police promptly announced an investigation. The leader of the opposition, Palusalue Fa'apo, said the ministers should step down.

"PALUSALUE FA'APO: I am not confident in terms of the independence of the investigation by the police if the deputy prime minister and the associate minister are still in their position because I believe they've got the power and the privilege to interfere with the police investigation."

Palusalue said the investigation should be overseen by the Ombudsman. Muagututagata had claimed the police officers had refused to change the cover of the breathing apparatus and their actions were "irresponsible, dangerous and risky in spreading diseases." Then a Senior Corporal, Ma'anaima Patu, told Talamua online there was an attempted cover-up by a superior, to protect the two politicians. The Assistant Police Commissioner and Police media officer, Fauono Tala Tapu, had earlier said he believes the police report and said he didn't know why the ministers were not charged already. Yesterday, our correspondent Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia spoke to the minister of police and prisons, Sala Fata Pinati, who said police were charging the ministers.

AUTAGAVAIA TIPI AUTAGAVAIA: And he confirmed to me that he has already received the police report detailing the investigation and also they say in the report [they are] going to lay charges against the deputy prime minister and the associate minister.

Autagavaia says he then spoke to the acting Police Commissioner, who said the same thing.

AUTAGAVAIA TIPI AUTAGAVAIA: He said to me they were going to serve them the summons with the charges, and he told me about the charges. One against the deputy prime minister of obstruction of police and one charge against the associate minister of failing to comply with the regulation of being breath tested by the traffic police officers.

But later yesterday and again today, Leiataua Aviga Salale, retracted his comments. Today he issued a press release, blaming Radio New Zealand International for misquoting him. He now says police have not completed their enquiries and told me the Attorney-General will review the report before any decision is made. Autagavaia says he is has no idea why the story has changed and why the Acting Police Commissioner is not telling the truth.