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Tuesday 15 March 2016 | Published in Regional


PORT MORESBY – Papua New Guinea’s government has prevented anti-corruption police from engaging a private law firm and an Australian barrister to argue their case to arrest the country’s Prime Minister.

The director of the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate, Matthew Damaru, and his deputy Timothy Gitua have been seeking to arrest Peter O’Neill on corruption charges since June 2014.

But O’Neill obtained a court order preventing their warrant from being executed.

The Supreme Court recently ordered Damaru and Gitua to seek approval from the attorney-general to continue using private law firm Jema Lawyers and Australian barrister Greg Egan in their fight against that order.

PNG’s Attorney-General Ano Pala has now advised the pair he cannot make the decision because they are prosecuting him in a separate proceeding for attempting to pervert the course of justice and abuse of his office.

Pala referred the decision to the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General, Lawrence Kalinoe, who wrote to Damaru and Gitua on March 10 to refuse their request to “brief out” the case to private lawyers.

“You and your deputy are members of the police force and the Police Commissioner has oversight of your duties,” Pala said.

“If it is in the interest of the police force that you are to be involved in this proceeding, then the request to brief out should have come from the Police Commissioner, as the head of that organisation.”

The current Police Commissioner, Gari Baki, was appointed after the officers obtained a warrant for the Prime Minister’s arrest.

Baki does not support their legal fight, previously attempting to sack Gitua and accusing fraud squad officers of “insubordination”.

Kalinoe said PNG’s public solicitor will now represent Damaru and Gitua.

Damaru would only say the matter was now going back to the Supreme Court.

“I have to inform the court of the receipt of the letter and the decision and ask the court to consider it,” he said.

Queensland barrister Egan, who is representing the anti-corruption body Taskforce Sweep in a range of cases against senior PNG Government figures, said the public solicitor should not be handling the officers’ appeal.

“In this case, Jema Lawyers and myself have acted on behalf of the policemen in all cases before the court,” he said.

“They have offered to continue to act on a brief out basis without charge.

“In these circumstances it is absurd for the Secretary for the Department of Justice and Attorney-General to suggest any new brief out should be put in the hands of the public solicitor – a proposal that will result in further delays on the question of whether the court orders preventing the arrest of the prime minister should stay in place or be overturned.”

This is not the first time the PNG Government has sought to stop Egan from representing the fraud squad policemen.

In 2015, Egan and colleague Terry Lambert were denied entry to PNG for allegedly not having the correct visas to practice law in the country.

That decision was overturned in a judicial review and the lawyers were eventually able to re-enter the country to appear in court.