22 Oct 2015

15 Vanuatu MPs to be sentenced for corruption today

10:11 am on 22 October 2015

Fifteen MPs in Vanuatu will be sentenced for corruption today, in a decision that will throw great uncertainty over the government of the prime minister, Sato Kilman.

Marcellino Pipite

Marcellino Pipite Photo: RNZI/Hilaire Bule

The MPs, who make up half the government and a quarter of parliament, each face a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Twelve days ago, 14 MPs, including the deputy prime minister Moana Carcasses and the speaker, Marcellino Pipite, were found guilty of giving and receiving corrupt payments.

Mr Pipite then pardoned himself and the other MPs while he was acting president, but that move was overturned by the president, Baldwin Lonsdale, and ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The sentencing means the MPs will probably lose their seats, meaning 15 by-elections or a snap general election will have to be held.

Opposition happy with ruling

Vanuatu's opposition leader says he's very satisfied with the Supreme Court's ruling that the speaker of parliament's move to pardon himself and 13 other MPs this month was unconstitutional.

The opposition challenged the pardons in the court, arguing that they can only be granted by the actual President when all other legal avenues have been exhausted.

But three of the convicted MPs argued that it was President Baldwin Lonsdale's decision to later revoke the pardons that was unconstitutional.

Justice Oliver Saksak rejected this, saying the revocation was legal.

The opposition leader, Joe Natuman, says he's pleased with the ruling.

"Vanuatu is a democratic country, the rule of law applies to everybody equally and the leaders must not be seen to be above the law. This is why I complained."

The 14 convicted MPs will be sentenced at 10 o'clock this morning in Port Vila, along with another MP, Willie Jimmy, who earlier pleaded guilty.