8 Jul 2014

PNG outcry over AG move

8:56 pm on 8 July 2014

In Papua New Guinea, there's been a strong reaction to the Attorney General's announcement that there was nothing illegal in payments made by the state to a law firm.

Ano Pala has written to the police commissioner to say new material exonerates those involved in the scandal over alleged illegal payments from the state to Paraka Lawyers.

The announcement follows the Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill's repeated insistence that a letter from his office authorising payments was a forgery.

The letter was central evidence in a major fraud investigation leading to an arrest warrant issued for Mr O'Neill last month.

Our correspondent, Todagia Kelola, says the change in tack is being looked upon cynically and has attracted criticism.

"A former attorney general, Dr Alan Marat, has stated that Ano Pala doesn't have any power to declare that the payments to Paula Paraka were legal in that there are some matters before the courts and the proper forum for such declarations should be made by the courts."

This was echoed by another former Attorney General Kerenga Kua who says that Ano Pala's determination of the payments legality risks being in contempt of the Supreme Court.

Mr Kua was replaced as Attorney General last month shortly after the arrest warrant was issued for the Prime Minister.

He says that the Supreme Court last week made it clear that the payments to Paraka Lawyers should go to trial.

"The matter is still under dispute and it's been referred back to the national court for a trial so I don't know how the Attorney General has taken it upon himself to make a determination that it's legal while the question is still before the national court and in many other forums as well, also the subject of heavy criminal investigations and so on."

Kerenga Kua has urged the Police Commissioner to follow the court order and allow the warrant of arrest on the Prime Minister to be enforced.

He warns that Geoffrey Vaki, who was appointed as Commissioner by Mr O'Neill shortly after the arrest warrant was issued, must not allow himself to be manipulated by others.

Meanwhile, the chair of the now-reinstated Task Force Sweep, Sam Koim, has hit out at the Ano Pala's announcement, saying his unit rigorously investigated and audited the files involved in this case.