BRYAN KRAMER MP
PORT MORESBY – Former prime minister Peter O'Neill flew out of Port Moresby to Sydney on Friday an hour before a national court ruling on a judicial review concerning the validity of an arrest warrant against him.
In this article I will review the background facts of this dramatic event.
On 11 October 2019, Boroko detectives obtained the warrant against Mr O’Neill on allegations of official corruption.
The allegations were that, while prime minister in March 2012, O'Neill corruptly procured K1,277,245.46 from the National Gaming Control Board in a scheme to help Nixon Duban win the 2012 general election in the Madang Open Electorate for O’Neill’s his People’s National Congress.
O'Neill procured the funds for Duban to present to Yagaum Rural Hospital to bribe and unduly influence eligible voters in Madang Open Electorate – who rely on the hospital for health services – to vote for Duban.
In 2013, the national court upheld an election petition, finding Duban guilty of bribery and undue influence, voiding his election win and ordering a by-election.
The court expressed the view that the presentation of the cheque to Lutheran Yagaum Hospital on the eve of the general election was politically motivated, not presented in good faith, done falsely and for Nixon Duban's personal interest.
It based this view on the facts that Duban was a candidate for election who stood for the prime minister’s party, the special relationship between the prime minister and Duban and the funds were secured personally by the prime minister from the Gaming Board.
Further, a cheque for K300,000 from the Gaming Board was not disclosed to the people who witnessed the cheque presentation at Yagaum Hospital.
Of the total of K1.2 million released by the Gaming Board, only K600,000 was paid to Yagaum Lutheran Hospital.
Former chairman of National Gaming Control, Quenten Cholai, filed an affidavit in support of the application for a warrant of arrest, confirming he was directed by O'Neill to release the funds to Duban without proper board approval.
After considering the evidence and information, the district court granted the arrest warrant.
On 15 October 2019, officers tracked down O'Neill at the Crown Hotel at approximately 10am. When O’Neill’s close protection unit was made aware that police were there to serve the arrest warrant, O’Neill and his close protection unit refused to co-operate and frustrated police inquiries.
At 12pm O’Neill was contacted by deputy commissioner for police operations, Donald Yamasombi, requesting he make himself available. O’Neill responded that he would contact his lawyers and come back to them.
O'Neill instead went into hiding in the hotel.
At 2pm, acting police commissioner David Manning released a press statement making public the warrant of arrest against O'Neill.
Manning appealed to O'Neill to avail himself to investigators and allow due process to be completed.
"As of this morning Mr O’Neill was located at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Port Moresby,” Manning stated.
“The acting deputy commissioner operations Mr Donald Yamasombi has made contact with Mr O’Neill and has requested directly to him that he accompany him to Boroko Police Station to be processed. As we speak he has refused to cooperate with Police thus far.”
In response, O'Neill released a press statement claiming he was not informed or presented with a warrant of arrest from any member of the Royal PNG Constabulary.
“The claims made by the acting commissioner are false and fabricated in a clumsy way by the police minister and relate to renovations to the Yagaum Health Centre in Madang, which happen to be the province of the police minister,” O'Neill stated.
However, phone records confirm the conversation between the deputy commissioner and O'Neill.
The next morning, 16 October, O'Neill slipped out of the Crown Hotel in the back of a vehicle and stole into parliament, knowing police were not able to effect his arrest within the precincts of parliament while in session.
His lawyers rushed to court to file an urgent application to seek a stay [stop order] against his arrest, claiming the warrant was defective.
The national court refused to hear the application exparte, affording the other party (the police) the right to appear and oppose the application.
The judge instead issued directions that O'Neill's lawyers first serve the police and the state, and he would hear the application on Monday 21 October.
O'Neill was notified in parliament and he left the gallery to make a call.
His lawyers wrote a second letter to the court registry at 1:47pm acknowledging the directions of the judge insisting his honour consider and grant a temporary stay until 21 October.
The judge again refused O'Neill’s lawyers request, directing they serve the police and state and the matter be set for Monday 21 October at 9:30am.
At 2pm, the acting assistant commissioner for police, Anthony Wagambi Jr, made contact with O'Neill to make himself available to effect his arrest.
O’Neill responded that he was in parliament for passing of LNG laws and would contact police at Boroko Police Station.
However, O'Neill had no intention of making himself available to police for an interview as he continued to hide in parliament awaiting a response from his lawyers.
His lawyers then wrote to chief justice Sir Gibbs Salika, referring to the judge’s decision to refuse to hear their application and directions that the police be served and the matter was listed for 21 October.
“In light of imminent breach of our client’s constitutional right under the constitution due to the patent defect on the face of the warrant dated 11 October 2019 issued against the arrest of our client that his honour consider and grant a temporary stay until the 21st October 2019,” the letter stated.
“We look forward to your urgent response.”
In reply, the chief justice hand-wrote a notation on the same letter directing the judge to attend to the matter for a temporary stay until Monday 21 October: “"Maviri J, please attend to this matter for a temporary stay until 21/10/19" (undersigned by the chief justice).
Following the directions issued by the chief justice, judge Maviri vacated his earlier directions and agreed to hear O'Neill's lawyers’ application at 3pm that afternoon.
After hearing the application, consistent with chief justice’s directions, the judge granted an interim stay, restraining police from arresting and executing the arrest warrant against O'Neill until Monday 21 October.
A relevant matter to note is that the chief justice was recently appointed by O'Neill late last year.
O'Neill waited in the parliament car park until 6:30pm, until his lawyers obtained sealed orders on police.
In a later article, I will provide an insight into:
- Why O'Neill was held at Boroko Station for three hours and later released without charge.
- Whether the warrant was defective or whether O'Neill and his lawyers filed a fake warrant to mislead the court.
- Why police withdrew the warrant.
- What happens now the court has dismissed O'Neill's case.