War of words between PNG PM and predecessors

2:06 pm on 25 April 2016
Former Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare

Former Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

A war of words is continuing between Papua New Guinea's prime minister Peter O'Neill and his two predecessors over his refusal to stand aside over a major fraud case.

Last week, Sir Mekere Morauta and Sir Michael Somare issued media statements after the police commissioner moved to suspend leading members of the fraud squad for probing Mr O'Neill's role in alleged illegal state payments to a law firm.

This followed several high-profile arrests in relation to the case, including of the prime minister's lawyer, the attorney-general and a Supreme Court judge.

Sir Mekere has warned about damage being incurred to the integrity of the office of PNG prime minister by Peter O'Neill not allowing himself to be questioned by police over the case.

Sir Michael also called for the prime minister to surrender, calling out Mr O'Neill for what he said were naked attempts to prevent investigation of corruption and illegal acts.

He also urged all sitting MPs not to remain silent about the case.

However, Mr O'Neill insists he is innocent and says the two former prime ministers should wait until the court process around the case has played out.

Mr O'Neill has labelled them hypocrites, saying that unlike him, Sir Michael has personally benefitted from misuse of public funds

He accuses Sir Mekere, in his capacity as chairman of the Sustainable Development Programme, of neglecting the people of Western Province by keeping the SDP's long-term fund for the province parked in Singapore.

However, in response Sir Mekere explained that the long-term fund is invested overseas, by law, to protect it from unscrupulous people, including politicians.

Mr O'Neill has been in a dispute with Sir Mekere since 2013 when his government expropriated Ok Tedi Mining Ltd from the SDP.

Sir Mekere said SDP had been disturbed by events in Western Province since the takeover, as money normally made available from the Ok Tedi mine for sustainable development in the province had dried up, making a severe impact on people's lives.

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Photo: RNZI / Koroi Hawkins

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