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Guilty trio to be sentenced for $70k fraud

Friday 22 March 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Court, National


Guilty trio to be sentenced for $70k fraud
From left: Nga Puna, Diane Charlie-Puna and Robert Tapaitau outside the High Court in July, 2023. AL WILLIAMS / 23070220

The former deputy prime minister and two former senior civil servants will be sentenced today after being convicted of fraudulently using $70,000 in public funds.

Former deputy prime minister Robert Tapaitau will appear for sentencing this morning, along with husband and wife, former National Environment Service director Ngatokorua Puna and former Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI) secretary Diane Charlie-Puna.

The three convicted of fraud and related charges will be sentenced before Chief Justice Patrick Keane at the High Court.

Tapaitau is represented by lawyers Norman George and Michelle Tangimama, Charlie-Puna represented by lawyer Brian Mason, and Puna is represented by lawyers Lavi Rokoika and Tevita Vakalalabure.

The trio were found guilty of misusing $70,000 in public funds between April 2019 and March 2021.

Also read: Trio found guilty in high profile corruption case

They were found guilty and convicted of “all or most offences” following a judgement given by CJ Keane in late January this year.

Tapaitau is to be sentenced for three charges of using a document to obtain pecuniary advantage and one charge of conspiracy to defraud.
Charlie-Puna will be sentenced for seven charges of using a document to obtain pecuniary advantage and a charge of conspiracy to defraud to which she entered a guilty plea on June 1, 2023.

In his ruling, CJ Keane said: “Mrs Puna is guilty of all offences with which she is charged, including those to which she has pleaded guilty, except those on which she has been discharged and charges 5,13; and I convict her accordingly.”

Nga Puna faced 22 charges of using a document to obtain pecuniary advantage, one of conspiracy to defraud, one of uttering a forged document and five charges of forgery.

CJ Keane ruled: “Mr Puna is guilty of all offences with which he is charged, except charges 14, 25; and I convict him accordingly.”

In his judgement, CJ Keane said that each defendant would be sentenced on the basis of a pre-sentence report that was to be given high priority.

The Crown was given until February 21 to file and serve submissions while defence had until last week – seven days before the sentence date.

In an earlier report, Tapaitau’s lawyer George said that an appeal could not be considered until sentencing had been passed.

Puna’s lawyer Rokoika said they were considering all options, including an appeal.