7 Aug 2019

Tonga's Supreme Court stays Tongasat appeal until costs paid

12:37 pm on 7 August 2019

Tonga's Supreme Court has ordered a company linked to the kingdom's royals to pay security for legal costs before it can appeal a controversial ruling against it.

Symbol of law and justice in the empty courtroom, law and justice concept, court

Photo: ikiryo/123RF

It comes as the government and Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva pursue Tongasat, which they accuse of taking millions in public money before it was stripped of its financial assets by a royal princess.

Tongasat, which manages Tonga's orbital space, launched an appeal after the Supreme Court in August last year ruled $US50 million in payments the company received from China was grant aid intended for the government. 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.

A bid from Tongasat to have fresh evidence heard in April was thrown out and around $US6000 in security the company had fronted for Mr Pohiva's legal costs were ordered to be paid out to him.

Another hurdle emerged last Wednesday, when Lord President Paulsen ordered Tongasat to pay around $US15,000 in security for costs by 1 November. If Tongasat fails to make payment by the deadline, its appeal will be stayed pending further court order.

Since last week's judgement Lord President Paulsen has finished his term and the next president will assume the case.

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. Tongasat and its backers, including a former prime minister and two former finance ministers, have denied any wrongdoing.

In earlier court affidavits filed on Mr Pohiva's behalf, the Prime Minister 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.

Tonga Prime Minister, 'Akilisi Pohiva

Tonga Prime Minister, 'Akilisi Pohiva Photo: RNZ Pacific / Koro Vaka'uta

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