By Samisoni Pareti
There is a standoff in Papua New Guinea today over new plans by the country’s police constabulary to arrest former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.
Acting Police Commissioner David Manning confirmed that a warrant of arrest has been issued against O’Neill, but added that the sensitivity of the case meant that he would not be able to provide specific details about the investigations.
“The warrant of arrest is now in the process of being served on Mr O’Neill,” Commissioner Manning said in his statement released late yesterday in Port Moresby, adding: “He will be processed by police after which he has the right to bail and defend himself in court. Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law so Mr O’Neill’s constitutional rights are being respected in that regard.”
Acting police chief Manning’s statement triggered a flurry of activities with O’Neill denouncing the police action as “a political move.” He said the commissioner should have made “legal representation” to his office instead of posting his statement on social media.
He also accused police minister Bryan Kramer for meddling in police matters, claiming that the warrant is related to the renovations of a health centre in Kramer’s constituency of Madang.
While Minister Kramer has yet to issue a public statement on the matter, O’Neill’s lawyers have acted in defending its client from what it says are “baseless accusations made by both politicians and the public” which could only “tarnish and destroy the name and reputation of our client let alone the international damage it will cause to our country.”
Twivey Lawyers addressed their letter to the Detective Chief Superintendent of Police and the Director of National Fraud & Anti Corruption Directorate to request that police explained the reasons for the warrant of arrest, and also asked that the police interview be deferred to next week as O’Neill’s “principal lawyer” is away abroad.
The copy of the law firm’s letter was released just as Post Courier reported today that police have recalled officers that were providing security for O’Neill.
The newspaper says five of the former prime minister’s bodyguards, all police officers, have been suspended for “unknown reasons.”