Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown will take on all of suspended Deputy PM Robert Tapaitau’s portfolios for the foreseeable future while a high-profile trial is ongoing.

Tapaitau is currently on trial for one count of conspiracy to defraud and three of theft as a servant.

He is joined by former director of National Environment Services Nga Puna, and former Infrastructure Cook Islands secretary Diane Charlie-Puna. The trial is set to last for up to four weeks, and is being overseen by Chief Justice Patrick Keane.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister told Cook Islands News: “I can confirm that the King’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters, suspended the appointment of Robert Tapaitau as a Minister of Crown effective June 12, 2023.”

“As previously advised by the Prime Minister, the suspension takes effect on June 12 and will remain through until the outcome of the Court proceedings,” she said.

At the time of his suspension, Tapaitau held the portfolios of Outer Island Special Projects, Transport, Energy and Renewable Energy, and Marine Resources.

PM Brown will take over these portfolios, on top of his current portfolios of Attorney General, Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Public Service Commission, Police, Finance and Economic Management, Seabed Minerals Authority, Tourism, and Telecommunications.

This is not the first time Tapaitau, who is also the Penrhyn MP, has been suspended from his portfolios.

In October 2021, Tapaitau stepped aside as a Minister after being charged with conspiracy to defraud.

On 17 May 2022 he was reinstated as Deputy Prime Minister and to most of his portfolios, but stripped of his responsibility for the National Environment Services and Infrastructure Cook Islands to avoid a conflict of interest with his ongoing criminal trial.

Cook Islands United Party leader Teariki Heather was nonplussed about the Prime Minister taking on even more roles.

“He’s the man in charge, he can do whatever he wants,” Heather said.

Opposition leader Tina Browne could not be reached for comment.