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Half of government jailed

Friday 23 October 2015 | Published in Regional

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PORT VILA – Vanuatu’s deputy prime minister Moana Carcasses has been sentenced to four years in jail for bribery and corruption, joining 13 other MPs, or half of the nation’s government, in prison.

The verdict puts most of the governing party’s cabinet behind bars and makes it likely another election will be called, despite the current administration only taking power in June.

On October 9, Vanuatu’s Supreme Court found Carcasses had made illegal payments to his fellow MPs when they were in opposition.

Justice Mary Sey ruled that the payments were designed to influence MPs in their capacity as public officials.

Upon sentencing, Justice Sey said those who “occupy a position of trust or authority can expect to be treated severely by the criminal law”.

“Furthermore, where an offence involves a breach of trust, the court regards it as a significant aggravating factor,” she said.

The parliament’s speaker, Marcellino Pipite, who led an unsuccessful attempt to pardon himself and the convicted MPs last week, has been sentenced to three years in prison.

Jailed Vanuatu MPs:

- Deputy Prime Minister Moana Carcasses – 4 years.

- Speaker Marcellino Pipite – 3 years.

- Foreign Minister Serge Vohor – 3 years.

- Lands Minister Paul Telukluk – 3 years.

- Public Works Minister Tony Nari – 3.5 years.

- Youth And Sports Minister Tony Wright – 3 years.

- Climate Change Minister Thomas Laken – 3 years.

- Sebastien Harry, Jonas James, John Amos, Steven Kalsakau, Silas Yatan, Arnold Prasad, Jean Yvees Chabot – 3 years.

- Finance minister Willie Jimmy – 20 months suspended following guilty plea.

The other MPs, including former prime minister Serge Vohor, have also been sentenced to three-years jail. Carcasses, another former prime minister, received his four year sentence on multiple counts, to be served concurrently.

As the MPs have been sentenced to two years imprisonment or more, they are not permitted to sit in Vanuatu’s parliament.

Carcasses’ lawyer told local media he will be lodging an appeal against his sentence later today.

Finance minister Willie Jimmy, the only MP to plead guilty to the corruption charges, was given a suspended sentence.

Ahead of the sentencing, Justice Sey called bribery a cancer and denounced the politicians’ actions.

“I remind myself that you are the first in Vanuatu to be prosecuted for this offence in your capacity as members of parliament at the time of the offending,” she said.

“You were given power and authority. With power and authority, comes an obligation of trust.

“You betrayed that trust and in the cause of doing that you undermined the very institution that it was your duty to uphold.

“For that reason, as I’ve previously said, a fitting custodial sentence is required that fully reflects the need for denunciation and deterrence.”

Pipite sparked a constitutional crisis when he pardoned himself and 13 other MPs of corruption charges while he was acting president.

That move triggered another pending court case for 11 of the now-jailed MPs, and three lawyers, for conspiring to defeat the cause of justice.

An political academic based in Port Vila, Tess Newton Cain, says Vanuatu’s Justice Mary Sey had some strong comments to make as she delievered the sentences.

“She described bribery as a cancer, she said that the actions of the convicted MPs were of great consternation to the court and whilst she had heard submissions from the defence about recommendations for suspended sentences she made it very clear that she was starting from the point of view that there would be custodial sentences involved.”

The first president of Vanuatu and one of the framers of the Constitution, Ati George Sokomanu, says it was a sad day for Vanuatu and the families of the MPs but it is also a lesson for the country’s leaders.

“We need to look at the whole thing and as the President of the Republic said, he revoked th ]e pardons and said also that no-one was above the law and I think this is something that we in Vanuatu should remember, especially our leaders.”

Willie Jimmy says he was very happy to get a suspended sentence.

He believes that decison will allow him to continue in parliament and he says the best thing for the country would be if a general election was called.

“That would be the best remedy at this point in time – have an early election, that would be the best choice.”

The MPs given jail sentences for their roles in the corruption case have two weeks to appeal against their sentences. - PNC