Vaipae/Tautu MP Mona Ioane was appointed to the position previously held by MP for Teenui-Mapumai Rose Brown, who is now leader of the parliamentary opposition, made up of Demo Party and One Cook Islands members.
CI News was alerted to the appointment on Tuesday by a Smoke Signals column contributor, who claimed that according to “reliable sources”, the appointment had been made by prime minister Henry Puna. The smoke signaller asked whether the prime minister, who is also Attorney General, was fully aware that Mona Ioane was under police investigation for electoral bribery.
However, a government spokesperson who asked not to be identified, said the smoke signaller was incorrect in that it was not the PM who had made the appointment.
“Parliament elected the new deputy Speaker. The Mona Ioane case is following due process.
“It is no different to when Teina Bishop held the post of Leader of Opposition before he went to court,” the spokesman said.
Efforts by CI News this year to get an update on the long-running investigation into Ioane have drawn little response from the Cook Islands Police Service.
The last development in the case of any significance was in December 23 last year when Police Commissioner Maara Tetava said he had referred the investigation to Crown Law for a legal opinion.
Yesterday, in a statement to CI News, Tetava said police had received differing legal opinions on the matter which had led to further inquiries being carried out.
“A review of the case is underway and a further legal opinion will also be sought,” he said. “A decision on this matter will be made at the appropriate time. No further comments will be made until then.”
The news that Crown Law had been asked for a legal opinion came a year after the Court of Appeal found the Aitutaki MP guilty of bribery under the Electoral Act.
The investigation into Ioane centres on allegations of bribery centred around the appointment of a field officer during the 2014 general election.
In March 2015, Tetava told CI News the case was complex, requiring “ongoing meticulous investigation and time”. He denied there had been any political interference in the case.
Detective Inspector Areumu Ingaua led the initial investigation, which included interviews on Aitutaki. If police do in fact eventually lay charges against Ioane, and if the MP is convicted, he will be struck off and another by-election will have to be held. There have been widespread calls for more urgent action on Ioane’s case following the successful prosecution of former MP Teina Bishop on a charge of corruption as a minister of the Crown.