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Prosecution of PM dropped

Friday 20 March 2020 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Crime


Prosecution of PM dropped
Prime Minister Henry Puna touches down in Omoka, Penrhyn, during a pre-election visit to the northern islands aboard a chartered executive jet. LISA WILLIAMS 18081532

Days before going the case was going to trial, a Demos political candidate has withdrawn his private prosecution of the Prime Minister and his deputy for chartering a private jet.

Teokotai Noo George was worried about the progress of the case accusing Henry Puna and Mark Brown of conspiracy and improper payment of public funds – so last week, he walked up the street from his Raro Chicken store to the offices of Wilkie Rasmussen.

Rasmussen says he was asked to review the case and, after enlisting the expertise of New Zealand barrister Warren Pyke, advised George that in their opinion the case was unwinnable.

George sacked his previous lawyer, Norman George and this week withdrew the prosecution.

Yesterday, Secretary of Justice Tamatoa Jonassen said as the complaint had been withdrawn, the High Court trial set down to be heard by Chief Justice Sir Hugh Williams QC would be abandoned.

Mark Brown welcomed the decision. “We were looking forward to the clearing of our names in court against this false and malicious private prosecution,” he said.

“We can now turn our efforts to the international crisis affecting our country without the distraction of this legal circus led by some desperate clowns.”

Puna and Brown had both pleaded not guilty to four separate charges over the charter jet row.

They were accused of improperly spending $32,000 of Ministry of Health money on a charter flight, under pretence of a medical emergency, when in fact the object was to fly independent Penrhyn MP Robert Tapaitau to Rarotonga to help them form a government.

Officials also chartered a plane to bring Pukapuka MP Tingika Elikana over.

Rasmussen said Norman George and his client had met with him when they first decided to take the case, to see if the Democratic Party would fund the legal costs. The Demos refused.

So George and George proceeded with private funding. Norman George had been paid more than $7000, from undisclosed sources, but in Rasmussen’s view the allegation of conspiracy was unsustainable and would be thrown out of court.

He said there was no evidence of a conspiracy. The charter flight costs had been properly split between the health budget and the Civil List, and approved by Parliament’s Clerk and Deputy Clerk.

Worse, he said, Noo George would have been liable for legal costs and potentially to be counter-sued. He said Noo George was “gullible” in agreeing to front the case, and so he would not charge the former candidate for his legal advice.

Norman George, a former MP who mounted another successful fraud prosecution last year, is challenging the withdrawal of the prosecution. In an application to the Chief Justice, he now says Rasmussen “hijacked” his case.

He says there are five other complainants, and he will continue the case on their behalf.