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Shark case prompts private legal pursuit

Wednesday June 04, 2014 Written by Published in Local
Pictured here is the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 199, the Chinese-flagged longliner that is believed to have broken Cook Islands laws by sailing through the nation’s EEZ with shark fins onboard. 14053008 Pictured here is the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 199, the Chinese-flagged longliner that is believed to have broken Cook Islands laws by sailing through the nation’s EEZ with shark fins onboard. 14053008

An anonymous individual is continuing efforts to potentially mount a legal challenge against the conduct of government officials in the handling of an incident where shark fins were found aboard a Chinese-flagged fishing vessel.

Local lawyer Charles Little confirmed his firm –Little & Matysik P.C. – is continuing to act on behalf of a client, whom he said holds concerns that there may have been political interference in the case.

The case relates to an incident last February, when Cook Islands Maritime Police found an estimated eight kilograms of wet shark fins aboard a Chinese flagged longliner.

Using the advice of Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) Secretary Ben Ponia, Prime Minister Henry Puna – who formerly held the MMR portfolio - made an “executive decision” to allow the vessel to proceed through Cook Islands waters without having charges laid.

CINews first reported in March that the matter was being pursued by the firm’s client, who has made a specific request to have his name remain confidential.

“What happened was, we were told the Prime Minister issued a press statement and had vetoed the police from arresting the vessel,” he said. “We understood that, given that advice, there was no intent to arrest.”

Little said the firm has since received notice from Ponia that the Government is in the process of prosecuting the vessel through the processes laid out by the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

A WCPFC official recently said the incident is “clearly a matter for the Cook Islands and its domestic laws”.

Little said in a letter written by Ponia to his firm on May 9, the MMR secretary denied that charges wouldn’t be laid in the case, which he said was insinuated in an article published in CINews on March 21, describing the PM’s role.

Ponia – who could not be reached for comment yesterday - reiterated through the letter that the Government was pursuing the matter.

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