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$32k med-evac charter goes to court

Saturday 7 December 2019 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Politics


$32k med-evac charter goes to court
Henry Puna. 19120666

Former Demos candidate alleges there was no medical emergency, just political expediency.

Private criminal proceedings were filed against Prime Minister Henry Puna and his deputy Mark Brown in the High Court yesterday.

They are in regards to a charter flight used to pick up two MPs, who are part of the government, from the Northern Group after the 2018 general election.

The proceedings were filed by veteran criminal lawyer Norman George on behalf of complainant Teokotai George, a local businessman and taxpayer.

The Court confirmed papers had been filed. The charges allege “conspiracy to fraudulently defraud her Majesty the Queen”.

Lawyer Norman George said in a statement that Puna and Brown participated in a scheme to bring newly-elected MPs from Pukapuka and Penrhyn by chartering a jet aircraft for about $32,000, “by fraudulently using public funds”.

The fund was designated for the emergency evacuation of critically sick patients, the court papers allege, “when no such emergency existed”.

The second charge relates to “procuring for themselves and the Cook Islands Party the improper payment of $32,000 of public money” for the same charter flight.

Norman George said the two have breached section 280 of the Crimes Act 1969 and Ministry of Economic Management Act 1995-96 by committing these alleged offences.

Complainant Teokotai George, who is a former Democratic Party candidate, alleged the medical referral was just an excuse to bring the two MPs, one of who is an Independent, to Rarotonga.

The Prime Minister’s Office and deputy prime minister Mark Brown were invited to comment yesterday.

Earlier this week, Brown confirmed there has been a return trip coinciding with a medical evacuation. “Both Ministry of health and Parliament had to work together to effect a coordinated response,” he said.

The Democratic Party must be “desperately grasping at straws” to raise this matter, he said.

But Norman George said he was acting for the complainant to prosecute the matter privately.

This court action was undertaken because the police failed to act on a complaint filed in January, he added.

“The Democratic Party Caucus is in the process of consulting with each other and party supporters on their position with regard to this privately prosecuted corruption charges,” George said. “The party leader Tina Browne is expected to make a public statement later.”