14 Oct 2015

Police investigation launched into Vanuatu pardons

8:38 pm on 14 October 2015

Police in Vanuatu have confirmed they have received a complaint lodged by the opposition leader, Joe Natuman, against the controversial pardoning of 14 MPs on Sunday.

The Supreme Court on Friday found 15 MPs, including the deputy prime minister and speaker of parliament, guilty of giving and receiving corrupt payments.

Ousted Vanuatu Prime Minister Joe Natuman

Joe Natuman. Photo: RNZI / Kim Baker-Wilson

But in an extraordinary turn of events on Sunday, parliament's speaker Marcellino Pipite, who was standing in as acting president, pardoned himself and all but one of the convicted MPs..

Our correspondent in Port Vila, Len Garae, says police have launched an investigation into the pardoning.

"Joe Natuman has launched an official complaint against the pardoning of the MPs. A complaint has to be made in order for an investigation to look into it, and he has confirmed lodging a complaint."

The president, Baldwin Lonsdale, says Mr Pipite acted unlawfully and has promised action which he is expected to announce later this week.

Meanwhile, the country's parliamentary opposition says it is ready to assist Mr Lonsdale over the controversial pardoning of convicted MPs.

In a statement the Opposition has echoed appeals for calm as the authorities remedy what the MPs call a gross abuse of power and travesty of justice.

The MPs say they will not bow out or sit idly by and watch, saying Mr Pipite and his friends will not get away with it.

Marcellino Pipite

Marcellino Pipite Photo: RNZI/Hilaire Bule

They say democracy appears to have been hijacked by a bunch of unruly delinquents but they believe power will be restored back to the people.

They have also condemned Mr Pipite's actions in tampering with the Office of the Ombudsman, which has created further confusion within that institution.

They say they are disappointed the Prime Minister Sato Kilman is standing by while his cabinet members carry on corruptly.

Vanuatu PM still silent on pardons

Sato Kilman - pictured during a visit to Russia in March 2015

Sato Kilman - pictured during a visit to Russia in March 2015 Photo: Vladimir Pesnya / RIA Novosti

Five days since 15 of his MPs were convicted of bribery charges, Mr Kilman is yet to say anything about their controversial pardoning.

The head of Transparency Vanuatu WIllie Tokon says the fact that half the government has been found guilty of bribery is very serious.

Dr Tokon says the Prime Minister needs to end his silence and clarify what he will do.

"He should come out, make a decision and come out and tell the people of Vanuatu whether he likes to run this government with these convicted MPs, or common sense would say he should liase with the leader of the opposition, form a government that is much cleaner than what we have now and prevent a snap election."

Our correspondent in Vanuatu says Mr Kilman opened an Auditor Generals conference in Port Vila on Tuesday, where he spoke of the need for good governance and anti-corruption measures.

However, he didn't address the case specifically and immediately left after giving his speech, avoiding waiting journalists.