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Court clears way for case against PM O’Neill

Wednesday 6 April 2016 | Published in Regional

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PAPUA NEW GUINEA – The director of Papua New Guinea’s police fraud and anti-corruption unit has welcomed a decision by the Supreme Court to discharge orders preventing his team investigating the prime minister over alleged fraud.

An arrest warrant was issued for Peter O’Neill over two years ago in relation to his role in allegedly illegal state payments of around 30 million US dollars to a law firm.

Both O’Neill and his Finance Minister James Marape, who is also implicated, were able to effect stay orders preventing fraud officers from arresting or interviewing them in relation to the case.

But following this week’s court decision, police appear to be a step closer to arresting the prime minister.

However the fraud unit director, Matthew Damaru, said this was just one of two Supreme Court proceedings to be adhered to.

“This one of them has already discharged the prevention orders, and we are free to carry on with our investigations,” said Damaru.

“However there is still one yet to be determined, so that is still going to prevent us from interviewing the prime minister at this stage.”

The prime minister quickly issued a statement welcoming the supreme court decision, describing it as “another indication that the judiciary in Papua New Guinea is vibrant and independent in its decision making”.

However he said the case relating to legal fees for the alleged fraud case remained outstanding before the court through a judicial review by Justice Bernard Sakora, which also reaffirmed that the warrant of arrest be stayed until the judicial review is heard.

O’Neill appealed to all citizens to remain calm, respect the rule of law, and allow the judicial process to take its course.

Meanwhile, PNG’s former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta has called on O’Neill to step aside to allow the criminal case against him to proceed, in order to protect the reputation and integrity of the Office of Prime Minister.

O’Neill has previously refused to step aside to allow a probe into his role the Paraka Lawyers fraud case, or “Parakagate”, saying the charges have been politically motivated.

When the arrest warrant issue came to a head in 2014, the prime minister moved to dismantle the anti-corruption body Taskforce Sweep from whose investigations the warrant stemmed.

He also replaced the then attorney-general and police commissioner.

But the fallout has been hard to suppress, with the new attorney-general charged with perverting the course of justice, and the replacement police commissioner sentenced to jail for obstructing the arrest warrant on O’Neill.

Sir Mekere said that following Tuesday’s Supreme Court orders, the prime minister can be arrested and charged on any case other than the specific matters raised in the Paraka arrest warrant.

“This decision should end all the delaying tactics used by the prime minister and finance minister to prevent their arrest and questioning,” he said. - RNZI