| My Land, My Country
LAE - For nearly two decades, senior journalists who covered the work of foreign cartels in Papua New Guinea have continually warned successive governments of the impending threat of organised crime.
It is no longer just a threat.
In 2003, a father of three, came to the EMTV office in Port Moresby, his face covered in blood from a cut on his head.
Earlier, he had an altercation with a Chinese shop owner in Gerehu after finding that his primary school age child had become addicted to playing horse race gambling machines.
The machines were made of wood and the electronic parts brought in from China. The businesses that made them had warehouses in Hohola, Gerehu and several other locations around Port Moresby.
They were essentially, slot gambling units that paid small amounts of money if your ‘horse’ won.
The machines had no clear legal classification at the time. They could not be easily taxed under the gaming laws and they were a cross between poker machines and arcade games.
The man had found his son at one of the shops playing the machines when he should have been in school. He confronted the Chinese shop owner and the argument escalated into a fight.
This was just one of many confrontations that happened in a space of three years.
It took several public protests, intervention by churches, the Public Accounts Committee and other government agencies before the proverbial wheels of justice began turning … slowly.
The Public Accounts Committee, under chairman and Bogia MP John Hickey went after the cartels, summoning every relevant government agency including the Internal Revenue Commission (IRC).
Hickey became the target of several attacks. In one instance, in the middle of a Public Accounts Committee hearing, his house, in a relatively well protected area, was broken into.
Police were called to the scene. He suspended the hearing temporarily and was in subsequent days placed under police guard.
IRC Commissioner David Sode was called to give evidence.
His testimony at the hearing exposed a network of businesses dealing in counterfeit products, illegal gambling and arms smuggling.
Nearly every one of them was being investigated by the IRC for tax evasion.
As the investigation continued on several fronts, the cartels were bold enough to attempt to assassinate the David Sode himself.
Information was leaked from within their own circles and the police and the IRC came down hard and arrested a kingpin.
According to the evidence gathered, the man had five gun licenses in his name, all issued by the government of Papua New Guinea.
Within government circles, there was a lot of frustration. Officers within the National Intelligence Organisation (NIO) said they had limited success convincing police to arrest several key figures involved in human trafficking and gun smuggling, despite repeated offences and evidence provided to police.
During joint raids by customs, IRC and the police Transnational Crimes Unit, the media was shown documents which were authorisations from senior ministers and high ranking government officials.
The cartels were using government officials to authorise their operations.
Several arrests were made. The lead police officers, the NIO and transnational crime unit faced stiff resistance when they tried to deport a group of foreign nationals during that period.
The Chinese Embassy paid for lawyers to represent them, arguing that they had the right to remain in the country.
The head of the NIO, Bob Nenta, eventually succeeded in ensuring the deportation happened.
At the end of that episode, several people were deported and the horserace machine operation crushed.
[I was there for every one of those events. This is all verifiable information and the officers from multiple agencies who were involved in the great work done can verify this - SW]