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Vanuatu court hears MPs’ appeals

Friday 13 November 2015 | Published in Regional

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PORT VILA – Vanuatu’s Court of Appeal has began hearing the cases of 14 MPs jailed for bribery last month.

Reports from Port Vila say the courtroom is packed, with crowds also gathered outside following the case.

The 14 convicted MPs have filed six separate appeals with former deputy prime minister Moana Carcasses appearing first on the court listings.

The balance of power in parliament hinges on the outcome of the appeals.

A ruling in favour of the convicted MP’s would restore the government’s power while a negative result will leave a hung parliament.

The Court of Appeal is expected to sit for several weeks with 21 cases listed to go before the four appeal court judges.

The basis of the appeals by the 14 Vanuatu MPs convicted of bribery claims the money involved was not a bribe but a loan.

John Malcolm, the lawyer for former deputy prime minister Moana Carcasses told the Court of Appeal the money his client paid to the other 13 MPs was a loan and it was intended for work in their constituencies.

Malcolm cited evidence given by MP Robert Bohn, who said he used the money for aid projects.

He said the money was to build a water catchment, a classroom and an aid-post in his constituency.

Bohn, who was found not guilty of the bribery charge last month in the Supreme Court, has since been made the country’s justice minister.

Malcolm also referred to evidence from Minister of Internal Affairs Osea Nevu that he used the money to buy a vehicle for a tourism project in his community on Santo.

The four judges reminded Malcolm that witnesses during the previous trial had said the money was intended to help remove the government of former prime minister Joe Natuman and install Carcasses as the prime minister.

Robert Bohn – the only MP cleared of the 15 charged with bribery – has been invited to join prime minister Sato Kilman’s new-look cabinet as minister for justice.

“The irony isn’t lost on many people, myself included,” Bohn told Pacific Beat.