Former Cook Islands Deputy PM jailed on fraud and corruption charges

Robert Tapaitau. PHOTO: Office of the Prime Minister Cook Is.

Former Cook Islands deputy Prime Minister Robert Tepaitau and two other former high-ranking Government officials were handed jail terms Friday for fraud and corruption charges.

Tepaitau has been jailed for two years and nine months for conspiracy to defraud and using a document to obtain pecuniary advantage.

He, along with former Environment Service director Ngatokorua Puna and his wife, Diane Charlie-Puna, who had headed Infrastructure Cook Islands, was accused of taking public funds of around $70,000(US$42,060).

Nga Puna has been sentenced to five years in prison for conspiracy to defraud, using a document to obtain pecuniary advantage and forgery.

Diane Charlie-Puna has received an 18-month prison term after getting a 50 percent reduction for community service, an early guilty plea and the fact her young children will have no parents while she and her husband serve their sentences.

There has been controversy surrounding Tepaitau, who was originally suspended when first charged but then reinstated by Prime Minister Mark Brown, which allowed him to contest and win his seat in the country’s 2022 general election.

He was then suspended again during his trial last year but then reinstated for the second time as deputy prime minister in November.

The trio received their prison sentences from Chief Justice Patrick Keene in front of a packed High Court in Rarotonga.