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Wheels of justice turn as PNG police go public on corruption case

Thomas EluhKEITH JACKSON

A media statement issued this morning by Thomas Eluh (pictured), Assistant Commissioner Crimes with the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary, has laid down a significant challenge to Peter O’Neill’s government in what has been a week of frenetic political activity.

The statement, which shows that the RPNGC is not going to respond supinely to what it sees as its obligations in law, makes a number of critical points, including that:

The Member for Kandep and former Treasurer Don Polye yesterday voluntarily surrendered himself to the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Office in port Moresby. The interview was suspended until Monday to give Mr Polye time to brief lawyers.

Police are searching for recently appointed Justice Minister and Attorney-General Ano Pala to question him on allegations of contempt and perverting the cause of justice.

Recently appointed Police Commissioner Geoffrey Vaki has been charged on two counts of abuse of office and perverting the course of justice. The investigation is continuing and there could be further charges.

Consideration is being given to whether lawyers Paul Mawa and Tiffany Twivey, who are believe to act for Mr O’Neill, should be questioned by police.

Police have appealed to Mr O’Neill to voluntarily make himself available to fraud investigators to be interviewed in relation to the illegal payment of K71 million to Paul Paraka Lawyers.

Assistant Commissioner Eluh says that “our criminal justice system hangs in the balance. As a leader he [O’Neill] must respect our laws and lead by example. The people of Papua New Guinea and the world are watching closely.”

Me Eluh “reassured” the public that “the wheels of justice have been set in motion and will not stop until prime minister O’Neill comes in for the interview.”

The statement continues with a chronology of the events that have occurred during the week in relation to police actions and it also addresses a number of important questions and issues that have arisen during that period.

A full text of the media statement follows….

Media Statement by Royal PNG Constabulary on current events

Thomas Eluh
Assistant Commissioner Crimes
Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary

The Member for Kandep Hon. Don Pomb Polye at 3.45pm today [Friday] voluntarily surrendered himself to the National Fraud & Anti Corruption Office at Konedobu, National Capital District to be interviewed over the illegal payment of K71 million to Paul Paraka Lawyers.

Present to receive him for the record of interview were Assistant Commissioner Crimes Thomas Eluh and Director National Fraud & Anti Corruption Chief Superintendent Mathew Damaru. The interview was suspended at 5pm to Monday June 23 to allow Mr Polye time to arrange a lawyer for himself.

In other developments Police are now searching for Abau MP and Justice and Attorney Minister Ano Pala for two counts of contempt and perverting the cause of justice.

“We believe Mr Pala’s instruction to disengage our police lawyer and engage the services of Paul Mawa lawyers who agreed to consent to the Prime Minister’s application to restrain police from arresting the Prime Minister is an obstruction of justice,” ACP Eluh said.

“We had earlier charged Geoffrey Vaki for two counts of abuse of office and perverting the course of justice. The investigation is still continuing and there could be further charges. We are also assessing whether lawyers Paul Mawa and Tiffany Twivey should be brought in for questioning as well,” Mr Eluh said.

“For the record, let me state that no-one is above the law. It is our duty as police officers to uphold the rule of law which is supreme without fear or favour.

“Whilst maintaining our stand that we will respect the rule of law, and respect the temporary court restraint, I want to again appeal to our Prime Minister to voluntarily make himself available to our fraud investigators to be interviewed in relation to the illegal payment of K71 million to Paul Paraka Lawyers.

"Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law and it is on that basis that we humbly request Prime Minister O’Neill to come in.

“Our criminal justice system hangs in the balance. As a leader he must respect our laws and lead by example. The people of Papua New Guinea and the world are watching closely.

“Let me reassure the people of Papua New Guinea and the world that the wheels of justice have been set in motion and will not stop until Prime Minister O’Neill comes in for the interview.

“Contrary to statements released by Prime Minister O’Neill, there are no hidden motives, nor has the Constabulary or its members compromised.

Here are the facts as they unfolded:

1. May 5th - Chairman of the Investigating Task Force Sweep Sam Koim wrote to Commissioner of Police Toami Kulunga highlighting the existence of a second letter purportedly from Prime Minister O’Neill which makes reference to the first letter;

2. Commissioner Kulunga then assembled a team of four investigators including myself to examine the documents before us;

3. As this matter related to our Prime Minister we took almost a month to examine the documents and convinced with our findings informed the Commissioner that the Prime Minister must be interviewed;

4. A warrant was obtained from the Chief Magistrate on June 12. However, due to the Commissioner’s engagement in court over his contempt case we could not get the invitation letter signed until June 16;

5. Since the warrant was served on the PM he has shown absolute contempt of the warrant (a court order) and resistance;

6. The Prime Minister continues to brand all state agencies, as politically
corrupt. In his Affidavit to the Court and through his lawyer, he has branded the officers who instituted the criminal process as rogue police officers. I am not a rogue officer.

I am the Assistant Commissioner in charge of the Crimes Directorate. I am a career police officer with over 40 years’ experience as a police detective and prosecutor.

“Various questions have been raised also by members of the public as well as the esteemed leaders which I feel need to be explained as well:

Why was a warrant of arrest taken out against the PM instead of inviting him for an interview?

“It is a requirement of law under section 87(2) of the Criminal Code that a person cannot be arrested for the offence of official corruption without a warrant.”

Why did we not officially write to the PM and give him time to turn up for an interview?

“The warrant of arrest is a court order ordering police to effect arrest on sight. We did not do that because we respected the office of the Prime Minister and instead allowed him to come at 11am or 1pm that day.”

Why didn't we serve the warrant at Parliament House instead of meeting him outside of the office?

“We could not serve the warrant on the PM at his office at Parliament House because section 14 of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act makes it an offence to serve a warrant within the precincts of Parliament. Besides, he was not served on the street but at the Remington office at Konedobu.”

Did we harass the PM when serving the warrant?

“No we did not harass the Prime Minister when serving the warrant. All due respect and protocol was accorded to the Prime Minister. There were only three people involved in serving him the warrant including myself. We did not carry any weapons or engaged additional man power. As far as we are concerned, we have complied with all the laws and due processes, from the investigation all the way to the service of the warrant and maintain that we accorded the respect to him as the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea.
“However, instead of fronting up for interview after we served him the letter the Prime Minister locked himself up at Parliament with all the ministers and used their powers to make decisions that we believe are designed to temper with the course of justice. The following are some instances:

….· On 16th June, immediately after PM O'Neill was served the warrant, he went to Parliament, conducted a NEC meeting and replaced Commissioner Kulunga, who signed the letter of invitation and installed Geoffrey Vaki as Acting Commissioner;

….· On the morning of 17th June in Court, the State through the Solicitor General supported Chief Superintendent Nicholas Miviri, counsel for the Police and objected the application for Mr O'Neill to obtain a stay order against the warrant;

….· On the afternoon of 17th June Mr O'Neill who we allege wanted to control the outcome of the case replaced Attorney General Kerenga Kua who was the Minister overseeing Task-Force Sweep team and the State's legal team who opposed the PM's application in Court on June 17;

….· On the same afternoon of 17 June, Deputy Commissioner (Operations) Simon Kauba called on the PM to voluntarily come for the interview;

….· On 18th June in Court, the State's legal team comprising of Mr Miviri, Mr Koim and Ms Jubilee Tindiwi were caught by surprise when the new Acting Police Commissioner Vaki and the new Attorney General Ano Pala instructed Paul Mawa Lawyers to appear on behalf of the Police and consent to a stay order. Acting Police Commissioner instructed Mr Paul Mawa to consent on the stay application of the warrant, basically stopping the course of justice. The instruction to consent to a stay against the constitutional functions of the Police was issued by Mr Vaki; and

….· In the afternoon of 18th June, PM O'Neill used his position as Chairman of NEC to remove Deputy Commissioner Kauba and disbanded the Task-Force Sweep team.

“We believe that all the actions of the PM since the service of the warrant on him on are designed to pervert the course of justice. We also believe that all the ministers who sat in the NEC have conspired to defeat the course of justice. We are closely examining the facts with a view to charging them all with a number of charges for various offences.”

Source: PNG Blogs

Comments

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Kristian Lasslett

Sorry Keith mine was more of a general rant after observing injustice upon injustice of late.

Assistant Commissioner Eluh may indeed be one of the honourable ones (so my apologies, I didn't mean to question his individual motivations).

And Michael, I agree hope is needed!

Personally, I see reason for it. Leaders like Gary Juffa - thoughtful, eloquent, a true public servant and a radical in the very best sense of the word - and institutional heads like Sam Koim - moral to the core, and brave - are hope inspiring.

Michael Dom

Kristian - your arguments about the police are undeniable.

But it seems that you ask us to abandon hope when we most need it.

Keith - fragmentary is the right word.

Kristian Lasslett

It is interesting to read the statement of the RPNGC's Assistant Commissioner on the current political crisis.

In one sense he is right the police could play a productive role diffusing tensions during this political impasse; but, sadly they have surrendered their entitlement to be treated seriously in this respect by years of impunity and rogue behaviour.

Can Thomas Eluh's statement - 'let me state that no-one is above the law. It is our duty as police officers to uphold the rule of law which is supreme without fear or favour' - really be read with anything but scepticism.

Because it is a running tradition that many of the most powerful people and entities in PNG are above the law.

While the everyday people are frequently beaten by police over the most trivial of offences, those committing the grand heists and serious violence are aided and abetted by those who are meant to uphold the law.

I can think of many examples, recent and historical, where this is true.

* When Tumbi suffered a major landslide, and Exxon stood accused of negligence, it was mobile squads who threatened protesting relatives, relatives who modestly demanded a guarantee that the government would launch an independent inquiry into the deaths of their loved ones, before they would allow the road to Exxon's Komo airport to be repaired.

* Over at Paga Hill, ATS, North Waigani, Arts Centre Settlement, Erima, residents have been threatened and brutalised by police when enforcing evictions orders, or in some cases, implementing evictions without said order. Worse still is when they are acting on behalf of business identities who have escaped police investigation, despite accumulating unenviable citations in multiple Auditor-General, and Public Accounts Committee reports.

* How many police officers were charged for human rights abuses associated with the Bougainville war, an especially important issue given that it was the mobile squads who stand accused in most historical accounts of escalating the crisis to inferno level during 1989. None to my knowledge (and we are talking of rapes, killings, assaults, etc).

* How many police officers, or senior commanders, have been investigated and reprimanded for dozens of crimes documented in reports released by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which include the torture of children, the pack-rape of women, and village burnings? I don't know the answer to this question, but I sincerely fear zero is the answer.

People in Papua New Guinea want to have a police command they can believe in; at moments like the current one, who wouldn't want a police force they could believe in to uphold the law without fear or favour.

But such a police force needs to earn this title, through responsible policing, transparency and accountability. It needs to earn this title, by following up on Auditor General, Public Accounts Committee, and Commission of Inquiry recommendations. It needs to win the people's trust by charging the land grabbers, the fraudsters, and the corrupt businessmen, no matter how well connected they may be.

I know good police officers in PNG, and have learnt a lot from them. But too often they leave the force in frustration (understandably!), and so it is the rot rises to the top, and in their wake emerges a culture of corruption, violence and impunity.

The police could indeed help diffuse the current crisis, but they have surrendered this important role through decades of unchecked rogue behaviour.
___________

The RPNGC is a fragmentary organisation within a fragmentary country. Responsibility can be hard to assign. In the current circumstances, where he is seen to be acting with great courage to uphold the laws of the land, it might be a little uncharitable to be sceptical of the actions of Assistant Commissioner Eluh (now stood down) - KJ

Peter Kranz

Mana says - Pre Kondo!

Michael Dom

As a distant observer of goings on in POM right now my thoughts are that while there maybe different allegiances in the senior ranks, the soldiers in general would support the wheels of justice.

I think if anyone calls in Defence Force support it would be O'Neill, continuing on his authoritarian role.

His wantoks might respond, but it would likely be against the rank and file of most, if not the majority of his fellows.

The main reason that the PM could call on the PNGDF would be if there was major civil unrest against or supported by police. That hasn't happened yet and this is still a civilian matter for the criminal justice system.

I think most reasonable PNGDF leaders can see that the only person politicising the issue is the culprit whose head is under the hammer of justice.

Let's hope Belden Namah doesn't get up to mischief and that the organisers of actions like Occupy Waigani have more in mind than just changing the PM.

Peter Kranz

Michael - Some of us are concerned about what position the PNGDF might take should conflict escalate. Comments?

Michael Dom

Well done A/Commissioner Eluh.


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