Thursday 18 June 2015 | Published in Regional
In June last year, an arrest warrant was issued for PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill over allegations of official corruption.
The country’s anti-corruption agency, Taskforce Sweep, accused him of authorising allegedly fraudulent government payments to local law firm Paraka Lawyers.
O’Neill declined to be interviewed by police and sacked the police commissioner, appointing Geoffrey Vaki.
Vaki chose not to arrest the prime minister, saying he wanted to investigate further to make sure the case was “watertight”.
At a press conference on July 2, he told media any moves to arrest O’Neill on corruption charges were “a long way down the road”.
As a result, contempt charges were filed against Vaki by two senior police officers – detective chief superintendent Mathew Damaru, head of the national fraud and anti-corruption directorate, and his deputy, detective chief inspector of police Timothy Gitua – for ignoring the court-ordered warrant.
Almost exactly one year after the arrest warrant was issued, PNG’s supreme court this week found Vaki guilty of two charges of contempt for not executing the arrest warrant and for telling the media he would not make the arrest.
Vaki was sacked for poor performance in May but bizarrely was honoured in an elaborate send-off parade this month.
Vaki made no comment outside the court. He will face sentencing next week.
“It’s been a very long trial involving a very sensitive issue and I’m sure the plaintiffs are very happy with the result,” Australian barrister Greg Egan, who represented Damaru and Gitua, said.
Since the arrest warrant saga, Taskforce Sweep has been starved of funds and the PNG government wants to introduce a new anti-corruption body.
The chairman of Taskforce Sweep was in court for the ruling. “The attempt to interfere with the arrest warrant was undermining the rule of law and frustrating the administration of justice in this country,” Sam Koim said.
“The conviction fortifies that position that we’ve held – it reinforces that the warrant against Peter O’Neill we obtained was not defective and is still valid, even though it is stayed by a court order.”
O’Neill has obtained an injunction on the arrest warrant while he challenges it in a separate court case.