PNG police force divided over major fraud case
A glaring division has opened up in Papua New Guinea's police force amid fallout over a major fraud case involving the prime minister Peter O'Neill. The head of the police anti-corruption unit, Mathew Damaru, and members of his team have been suspended by the police commissioner following several high-profile arrests.
A glaring division has opened up in Papua New Guinea's police force amid fallout over a major fraud case.
The head of the police anti-corruption unit, Matthew Damaru, and members of his team have been suspended by the police commissioner following several high-profile arrests.
Johnny Blades reports
The fraud squad's investigation hit obstacles right from the time it sought to arrest the prime minister, Peter O'Neill, in relation to his role in the payments worth about 30 million US dollars. But for two years Mr O'Neill has managed to halt the investigation and stave off arrest through legal challenges.
However a Supreme Court decision two weeks ago to allow the probe to continue was followed by the arrests of the prime minister's lawyer, the attorney-general and a Supreme Court judge. Just when it seemed that they were zeroing in on the prime minister, the Police Commissioner Gary Baki suspended the fraud squad officers, accusing them of insubordination and other breaches.
GARY BAKI: "Damaru and his team's modus operandi was to do investigations covertly and run to the courts to obtain arrest warrants in direct contradiction to set police practice and procedures as well as ruling of the Supreme Court. This is also done to frustrate and prevent me from exercising my powers as Commissioner of Police for the overall superintendence, efficient organization and control of the Force. As Commissioner of Police I was not given any brief by Damaru and his team since assuming office in June 2015 although I had requested Damaru to provide a list and detailed brief of all major investigations currently in court as well as investigations pending."
After being appointed last year, the Commissioner tried unsuccessfully to derail the investigation. A former PNG chief justice, Sir Arnold Amet says Mr Baki's rationale for the suspension is flawed, as fraud squad officers are mandated by the constitution to continue their investigations without needing the Commissioner's approval in every instance of their investigation.
SIR ARNOLD AMET: "This is simply because this commissioner has been appointed by this prime minister and they are trying to corrupt the process. And all that I think that will happen, is that these fraud squad officers, they have gone to court and the court has continually upheld their responsibility and due process."
The political commentator and activist Martyn Namorong says it's understandable that the fraud squad would be wary of informing the Commissioner of impending high profile arrests. He says the police commissioner has sided in court with the high profile people who the squad sought to arrest.
MARTYN NAMORONG: "There's clearly a division within the police force. Obviously it's related to political interference the police force. So that is the current reality unfortunately where one arm of the police wants to arrest and the other wants to prevent arrests from taking place. So it's a really weird situation in Papua New Guinea. But then, most situatios are weird in Papua New Guinea anyway."
Meanwhile, the arrest of the judge Bernard Sakora, has surprised many Papua New Guineans as the judiciary has long been regarded as the most robust of the country's democratic institutions. Justice Sakora was charged with accepting a payment from a lawyer linked to the law firm at the centre of this whole fraud case. Sir Arnold sees the judiciary as being able to withstand the scandal despite being under threat since the O'Neill led government was first formed.
SIR ARNOLD AMET: "Going back to 2011 when in my opinion they staged a constitutional coup and took over government, and have continued to test the resilience of the judiciary. I'm still confident. And of course there are individuals who are no different to any individuals, whether you be a prime minister or a senior judge. But institutions that we have inherited and adopted are resiient. It just requires honest leaders with integrity."
Meanwhile, a former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta, says Peter O'Neill's refusal to be questioned about the case and the handling of the police probe have "added to the cloud of oppression and intimidation that hangs over Papua New Guineans, heightened by physical violence and threats of physical violence".
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