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PM O’Neill comes under fire over AU$30 million payout

Papua New Guinea is embroiled in political turmoil triggered by the attempted arrest of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill by police on June 17 as part of ongoing anti-corruption investigations into payments to a prominent law firm. The investigations spiraled into political chaos after 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 the 2012 elections, carrying fresh evidence implicating him in the payment was leaked to the media. One of the key pieces of evidence in the investigation was a letter, written in 2012, that appeared to be from Prime Minister Peter O’Neill authorising some of the payments to Paraka Lawyers.

In January this year, Task Force Sweep Team chairman Sam Koim said the letter did not appear to have legitimately come from Peter O’Neill’s office, backing up O’Neill’s statement that it was a forgery. But the “very confidential” letter from Koim to PNG’s police commissioner, leaked to the media, outlines new evidence against O’Neill. The letter incriminating the Prime Minister reads in part: “This letter notifies you of the change of position from my previous letter to you dated 14th January 2014. The foregoing paragraphs contain the brief of our reassessment of the case as against Peter O’Neill in light of fresh evidence that have now become available. “In my previous letter, I briefed you of the findings of the Task-Force Sweep as against Hon Peter O’Neill, Hon Don Polye, Hon James Marape and Mr Steven Gibson. I did indicate that based on our investigation, the payments made to Paraka Lawyers were illegal and fraudulent. We recommended that Messrs Polye, Marape and Gibson be charged for their respective and joint roles as there were sufficient evidences to proceed against them.

“In respect of the case against the Prime Minister Hon Peter O’Neill, we found at that material time that there was no other evidence linking him apart from the alleged letter of 24th January 2012 which he openly denied authoring or signing it. Forensic test of the signature of PM O’Neill was not available at that time. We found that a case of fraud against Mr O’Neill on the basis of the questionable letter alone was unsustainable. We however advised that as the investigations into the allegations of fraudulent payments to Paul Paraka Lawyers were continuing, we would advise if there is fresh evidence warranting a review of the case against the Prime Minister.

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