Former PNG PM acquitted on abuse of office charge

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Former Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill defiantly clenched his fist Thursday, telling his political opponents “you have to defeat me at the elections”, after being acquitted on an abuse of office charge.

“I am very happy that the judiciary has once again proven me not guilty,” O’Neill said outside court.

“I know that there is a desire by my (political) opponents that I don’t (contest) the coming elections.
“But I can assure (them) that I will be there.

“If they want me out of politics, they have to defeat me at the (2022 general) elections.”

Justice David Cannings ruled that the State had failed to prove that “any abuse of authority had occurred, let alone wilful abuse”.

O’Neill was accused of abusing his office as prime minister over a letter dated 04 December, 2013, that he wrote to acting Treasury secretary Dairi Vele to identify funds to buy two 15-megawatt diesel generators from Israel that year.

His lawyer Greg Sheppard had argued that the letter was not a directive from O’Neill to pay K50 million (US$14 million) to the Israeli firm LR Group Ltd for the generators.

He said O’Neill had rather requested the Treasury Department to identify funds for the purchase of the generators.

Sheppard said Parliament had approved the payment through the Supplementary Appropriation Bill (Supplementary Budget) in 26 November, 2013.

He said O’Neill had acted in good faith.

Justice Cannings ruled that O’Neill was not guilty of the charge, because the purpose of the letter to Vele, was preceded by a state visit to Israel, involving the signing of a joint declaration of cooperation, including closer economic ties between the two countries, and the signing of a memorandum of understanding between PNG Power Ltd and the Israeli electric company.

“The purpose of the letter was to make funds available for a legitimate public purpose, to ease power shortage in Port Moresby and Lae,” Justice Cannings said.

“Whether it (letter) is regarded as a request or direction, it was not accompanied by any threat of consequences for non-compliance, thus (O’Neill) did not put any pressure on Vele or anyone else to do what he wanted done. Therefore State failed to prove any abuse of authority had occurred, let alone wilful abuse.”

He found that there was clear and rational reason for writing the letter as it was part of an action sanctioned by the National Executive Council and the Parliament, carried out for a legitimate public purpose.

SOURCE: THE NATIONAL/PACNEWS