Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been in the grips of a fraud scandal that goes to the very top of the country’s political structure. The Prime Minister Peter O’Neil himself has been accused of siphoning off millions of dollars of public money to a private law firm. The key evidence in the case against O’Neil is a letter he allegedly signed authorizing $31 million dollars to be sent to a prominent PNG law firm.
PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neil (left) shakes hands with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (right) in March. (Photo curtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald)
In response to the growing corruption that runs rampant in PNG the government faced pressure from both the public and from international powers such as Australia and the United States to investigate the problem. The former Attorney General of PNG, Mr. Kua formed a task-force to investigate the corruption. When the task-force turned their attention to Prime Minister O’Neil he not only disbanded the task-force but fired Attorney General Kua and the police commissioner at the time. This reaction from Prime Minister O’Neil was not only in response to the investigation turning toward him but also because the task-force and the police issued an arrest warrant for the Prime Minister. O’Neil accused the task-force of being compromised by political and media ties.
O’Neil denies all allegations of corruption and obtained a court order to prevent his arrest. This order has been appealed in the PNG courts and the arrest warrant was upheld, O’Neil was told to cooperate fully with police. The Court also reinstated the corruption task-force to continue their investigations into the PNG Prime Minister and his government. Now that the Court has ruled on the arrest warrant O’Neil has said that he will cooperate fully with the investigation and police.
The former head of the task-force who was sacked by O’Neil, a Mr. Koim has visited Australia to leverage support against O’Neil. He visited Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop as well several Australian newspapers in order to drum up support. There is support in PNG for the idea of appointing an Australian judge to oversee the investigation into the corruption as well as involving Australian police. Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister of Australia is under increasing pressure to use Australian assets in the investigation to halt the flow of corrupt funds from PNG to Australia.
O’Neil has since appointed a new Attorney General, Mr. Pala. Mr. Pala has said recently that he believes all the transactions between O’Neil and the private law firm are legal and has advised the corruption task-force to drop the case against the Prime Minister. These statements have resulted in an outcry from supporters of the original investigation, who believe the new Attorney General is protecting Prime Minister O’Neil.