18 Apr 2019

Tonga's Supreme Court rejects Tongasat appeal

1:44 pm on 18 April 2019

Tonga's Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by a company linked to the country's royal family to have more evidence heard in a high-profile case brought by the government.

It's the latest blow to Tongasat, a private company Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva has accused a royal princess of using to take millions in public money.

Space satellite orbiting the earth.

Photo: 123rf

Tongasat had launched an appeal over a Supreme Court decision from August last year, when the Supreme Court ruled $US50 million in payments China made to Tongasat was grant aid intended for Tonga's government.

The company wanted fresh evidence to be heard from four key witnesses, including former finance ministers Lord Matoto and Sunia Fili and former Department of Finance officials 'Aisake Eke and 'Aholotu Palu.

The four men signed an appeal last year calling for a retrial, claiming the transactions between Tongasat and China were commercial in nature and government-approved.

"Everything that he and our government did was according to law and according to the agreement with the Chinese government and the Chinese company and Tongasat," Lord Sevele told RNZ Pacific in November, in reference to Lord Matoto.

The Supreme Court dismissed Tongasat's motion for fresh evidence in a decision on Wednesday and ordered around $US6000 in security the company had fronted for Mr Pohiva's costs to be paid out to him.

The decision, however, does not prevent Tongasat from pushing ahead with its appeal of the August 2018 decision.

Justices Handley, Blanchard and Randerson said the role and involvement of the four witnesses were known to Tongasat before the trial took place and they could have given evidence last year during hearings.

"There was no practical, legal or ethical impediment to them being approached by the legal representatives of the appellant to give evidence in the trial," the judgement said.

Tongasat was transferred 93 percent of $US50 million in grant aids from China in 2008 and 2011, despite an expectation from the government at the time they would split the money 50/50, earlier court documents showed.

The payments were part of a settlement from China after it was found to have placed a satellite in Tonga's orbital space in 2006 without proper authorisation.

In an earlier affidavit filed on Mr Pohiva's behalf, he alleged Tonga's Princess Salote Pilolevu, an elder sister of King Tupou VI, had used her shareholding in Tongasat to strip the company "of all significant financial assets", including the China payments.

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