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Secret letter at centre of O’Neill AU$30m payments

The simmering political tensions created by the attempted arrest of Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill by police over alleged corruption allegations have cooled – at least for the time being. Mounting pressure on the Prime Minister and the government was created by a buildup of antigovernment sentiment propagated and led by political activists, university students and supported by the Opposition. The groups took umbrage over O’Neill’s alleged approval of the settlement of legal bills for prominent PNG lawyer Paul Paraka. An attempted protest march to parliament on June 24 did not eventuate and the government used its numerical strength to defer a sitting of parliament.

Public anger resulted mainly from the continuous attempts by the Prime Minister to avoid arrest after a warrant was taken out following police investigations into the payment of K71.8 million (AU$30.459m) to Paul Paraka Lawyers as legal fees from 2012 to 2013. The Prime Minister initially denied authorising the payment, however the situation spiraled into political chaos after the revelation of a secret letter by the Task Force Sweep Team. Established by O’Neill in 2012 as one of his first acts as Prime Minister after election, the letter alleged fresh evidence implicating the premier and requesting police to arrest him.

O’Neill, who blamed political compromise as the key reason for his incrimination, went to court to stop his arrest citing abuse of police power. He later followed through with a string of events including the appointment of a new Police Commissioner Geoffrey Vaki to replace Tom Kulunga, termination of Deputy Police Commissioner of Operations Simon Kauba, the suspension of Assistant Police Commissioner for Crime Thomas Eluh who has been leading the investigations and arrest of the Prime Minister.

Then came the announcement of a Commission of Inquiry into the corruption charge, disbanding of the Task Force Sweep Team and the sacking of former Attorney General Kerenga Kua and replacing him with Ano Pala. However, on June 30 the National Court ruled that it could not interfere with the functions of police and allowed the Commissioner to carry out his duties. The court said it would only intervene in the clearest cases of abuse in a police investigation. In his ruling, Justice Ere Kariko said in this case there was no evidence of abuse of power.

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