PNG ministers fail to have contempt charges dropped | Pacific Beat

PNG ministers fail to have contempt charges dropped

PNG ministers fail to have contempt charges dropped

Updated 29 February 2012, 8:00 AEDT

The two senior PNG ministers charges with contempt appeared in court this morning, but failed in their bid to have the charges set aside.

Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah and the Attorney-General Allan Maratt handed themselves into police yesterday after the Supreme Court issued warrants for their arrests.

The arrests were ordered after the Government tried to suspend the country's top judge late last week.

The Government has since rescinded that decision, but the two senior ministers' quest to have their charges dropped appears to still have has some way to play out.

Presenter: Cameron Wilson

Speaker: Liam Fox, PNG correspondent

FOX: When I went to the court this morning everyone was expecting fireworks because it would have been the first time that these two men faced the judge that they tried to suspend late last week, the Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia. But it ended up being a rather restrained affair, but when they went to court Sir Salamo quickly shut down any notion they had of trying to have the charges set aside and said that today they would simply be dealing with the matter of bail. He said that while police may have bailed them on their own reconnaissance yesterday, that bail was over as of them appearing in court this morning. And the faces of both Mr Namah and Dr Maratt fell at that statement, and then he said the only issues we'll be dealing with are bail and the conditions on that bail, how much will have to be posted and what other compliance measures. So that was the only submissions that were heard this morning. They were very brief. Both lawyers for Mr Namah and Dr Maratt agreed on a figure of five-thousand kina and both agreed that their clients would not discuss in any way this Supreme Court challenge to the government's legitimacy. That's the issue that's at the centre of this whole affair is of course is the challenge by supporters of Sir Michael Somare, the former prime minister to the legitimacy of the O'Neill government which got Sir Michael booted out of office. So they were both bailed on five-thousand kina and told not to discuss this matter until it returns to court on the 9th of December.

WILSON: And presumably then that will be to discuss this issue of whether or not the charges are set aside?

FOX: No that's the date that the Supreme Court will hand down its decision on this Supreme Court challenge to the O'Neill government's legitimacy. This matter on the contempt charges will be back in court on the 12th of December, so that's the Monday after that decision is handed down and that's when there'll be further discussions about, further attempt we imagine by the lawyers to have these charges set aside.

WILSON: What was the demeanour of Sir Salamo Injia today when he was addressing these two senior ministers?

FOX: Look it was a lot calmer and a lot more reserved affair than yesterday afternoon when Mr Namah and Dr Maratt's lawyers went to court. Sir Salamo was I think you could say displeased, annoyed, particularly that Mr Namah and Dr Maratt hadn't turned up for the court hearing and indeed he ordered them to appear this morning.

WILSON: I wonder if there was any expectation that maybe after the government made its decision last night to rescind the earlier moves to suspend the Chief Justice, was there a sense that maybe that was a peace offering and these charges might have been withdrawn?

FOX: Look I can only guess but perhaps the government was thinking that. But the mood certainly seems to have taken the heat out of the conflict between the judiciary and the executive. As I said relations in the court room today were a lot less frosty than they were yesterday, and indeed parts of the affidavit written by Mr Namah and Dr Maratt were read out by their lawyers in court, and both men apologised for the move to suspend the Chief Justice.

WILSON: Ok so plenty still to play out on this issue, but there's been a bit happening in PNG politics. If I can ask you on a separate matter I see former cabinet minister, Paul Tiensten returned to PNG today. Now before you tell us what happened on his arrival, just a bit of background to the circumstances when he left PNG about two months ago?

FOX: Sure Mr Tiensten was the Planning Minister of course until the Somare government was thrown out of office. He lost his portfolio then, and one of the first things that the O'Neill government did was setup a multi agency investigation into allegations of widespread corruption at the planning department, that's called Taskforce Sweep, and Mr Tiensten was wanted for questioning by Taskforce Sweep. But despite their request he fled to Queensland, Australia, despite their request for him to come in and answer some questions. That happened in September. Earlier this month he spoke with the ABC and described the investigation as a politically motivated witch hunt, and said he'd done nothing wrong. Well he returned to Port Moresby in PNG this morning on a flight from Cairns, and members of Taskforce Sweep and uniformed police officers were waiting for him, quickly bundled him into the back of a four-wheel drive and took him off to the fraud squad where we understand he's still being questioned.

WILSON: Ok so at this stage no word of any charges, it's just questioning?

FOX: That's right at this stage.

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