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Opinion

Failed private prosecution earns CAC $277,046 legal bill

Tuesday 30 August 2022 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in Court, National

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Failed private prosecution earns CAC $277,046 legal bill
Prime Minister Mark Brown. Photo: MELINA ETCHES/ 22041407

Citizens against Corruption has reportedly been slapped with a $277,046 bill after their failed private prosecution against Prime Minister Mark Brown and former Prime Minister Henry Puna last year.

A media release from the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday said the bulk of the costs landed on Paul Allsworth who needs to pay $165,530.80, Teokotai Noo George needs to pay $99,117.69 and the prosecution's legal counsel Norman George owes $12,397.94.

Cook Islands News yesterday requested from the High Court a copy of the Chief Justice’s decision on costs but was not given one by the time this story went to publication.

In March 2021, Brown and Puna were acquitted of fraud and improper payment of public money. Citizens Against Corruption (CAC) claimed Puna and Brown had chartered a jet to pick up MPs Robert Tapaitau and Tingika Elikana after the 2018 election.

Brown and Puna’s lawyers applied for costs orders against Allsworth and his associates which was heard by Chief Justice Sir Hugh Williams QC over two days in March. The Chief Justice is said to have released his decision on costs on May 18 this year.

The failed prosecution now owes money to the Crown, through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM) after Cabinet agreed for the Crown to indemnify the legal costs, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The media release from the Office of the Prime Minister said “as observed by Chief Justice Williams” the private prosecution was repeatedly advised by Crown Law senior prosecutor Kathy Bell and other lawyers that they did not have a case.

The release said the lawyers warned the prosecution that if they were unsuccessful, they might face a claim for costs against them.

Prime Minister Mark Brown said the costs awarded were significant amounts of money that the members of CAC now owe to the Cook Islands taxpayer.

“And now we see the same people lodging petitions on behalf of the United Party

against the latest election results,” Brown said.

“It again seems evident to me that these petitions are not being filed in the people’s best interests, but again for political motivation, and again funded by the United Party the sole aim of destabilising our duly elected government of the day.”

The Prime Minister said: “As before, the end result is likely to be nothing more than another waste of both taxpayer money and valuable court time that would be better utilised in the interests of other more worthy litigants.”

When approached for the comment Paul Allsworth refused to comment and questioned why Cook Islands News received this information from an Office of the Prime Minister media release.

“Why is the Office of the Prime Minister involved?” Allsworth said.

“It's got nothing to do with the Office of the Prime Minister, it’s got to do with Henry Puna as an individual and Mark Brown.

“At the moment I will make no comment because this matter has not been discussed by anyone, except you on the phone. I haven't discussed this with anyone on my team or anyone.”

Norman George also said he would not comment. Cook Islands News attempted to get hold of Teokotai George but was unable to get hold of him.

The media release yesterday from the Office of the Prime Minister said: The Chief Justice noted that, Mr Allsworth knew that “three impartial assessments by lawyers skilled in the criminal field were unanimous that the prosecution could not succeed and, were he to carry on, the defendants would be acquitted. Neither he nor Mr George took proper steps to investigate that, or even recognise the possibility the defendants might not be guilty.”