PNG to seek damages on UBS loan deal

PHOTO: Royal Commission of Inquiry PNG

PORT MORESBY — An investigation will be conducted into the “main players” in the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) K3 billion (US$1.3 billion) loan deal, says Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape.

He said the Government would set up a team of investigators to also look into UBS and Oil Search Limited. The team will include Transparency International.

The investigation will focus on the K30 million (US$8.5 million)-Commission of Inquiry into the UBS loan report which was tabled in and accepted by Parliament last week.

Marape said the K30mil spent on the commission to collect evidence was “big money”.

“I didn’t spend it for academic or a political exercise,” he said. “I had a view that it was illegal and not done correctly.”

The team will study the commission’s findings and recommend “who to bring to court, police or leadership tribunal”.

Marape is also considering taking the UBS to court plus the “consultants involved” in the loan deal.

“We want to claim for damages,” he said.

“To take to court the players involved is one aspect, but the bigger (focus is) on reclaiming the money PNG lost… That’s why I used the word restitution… I have already written to Australia because the transaction happened through the (UBS) Australian branch.

Marape said the commission of inquiry report accepted by parliament last week, had recommended that former prime minister Peter O’Neill be prosecuted for giving false information to a commission of inquiry, and be referred to the Independent Commission against Corruption.

O’Neill said last week: “I am here today and I will not be going into hiding or walk away… I will stand and face it (any action taken against him).”

The report also recommended that O’Neill, and then Treasury secretary Dairi Vele, be both referred to the Leadership Tribunal.

It stated that O’Neill was “centrally responsible” for the UBS loan, and that Vele was “indispensable in assisting him in that endeavour”.

The commission was chaired by former chief justice, Sir Salamo Injia.

It accused the UBS of “overcharging” the PNG Government by more than K400 million (AUD$175 million).

“UBS is solely responsible for overcharging and any misleading or deceptive conduct,” it said.

“They should be asked to repay the amounts overcharged, and both the PNG and Australian authorities should consider whether civil or criminal sanctions should be sought.

“UBS should be banned from doing work for the State (PNG) and any state-owned enterprise for 10 years,” he said.