THE head of the Papua New Guinea anti-corruption unit, Taskforce Sweep, has vowed to keep investigating high-level graft after being sidelined by the government.
PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill on Thursday announced that the national executive council was disbanding the unit because it has become politically compromised.
This follows attempts to arrest Mr O'Neill this week in relation to his alleged role in massive illegal payments to Paraka Lawyers as established in extensive investigations by Taskforce Sweep.
Mr O'Neill has previously denied approving the payments.
But Taskforce Sweep chairman Sam Koim told Johnny Blades that the Prime Minister's legal team has u-turned on their previous statements by now indicating the payments were legal.
SAM KOIM: It's shocking to see this because based on our findings there are many people who we have arrested and charged and they're facing court, and now they [the O'Neill legal team] are filing this application to declare all of them as legally what has been illegal. So it's interesting and you can't pre-empt what's before the court. Allow the court to make a ruling on that but yes, it's interesting.
JOHNNY BLADES: What was illegal about these payments? Was it that there was no paper chain to them? We understand they are huge payments but law firms are always expensive.
SK: Yeah, look, in our findings the bills were tainted with egregious instances of double billing, billing on matters that were not even contracted to them, for instance. Only three percent of the matters that they got paid for were briefed out to Paraka Lawyers. 97% were never briefed out to Paraka Lawyers or non-existent matters. They just lumped them in to inflate the figures.
It was fraudulent right throughout and they avoided the Justice Minister to vet the bills, because if their bills were subjected to a judicious vetting process, then those bills would not pass the test. So they went directly to the Finance Department and conspired to get paid. The payments were done over a period of seven years without even doing any work at all for some purported outstanding bills rendered in 2006. They continued to receive payments from 2006 onwards up to the latest in May 2013 for doing absolutely nothing.
JB: So the years it was happening under the Somare regime, who is being implicated for that, was there a Finance Department structure that is under the watch here?
SK: Yes, you see, the investigation... the Paraka saga is a 12-year scam and it's a massive investigation that we are carrying out. There are a lot of suspects out there, we need to rack them up and charge them, and bring them to justice. We have charged the people in relation to the recent payments but going down the years, we will find more and more people - suspects if you like - and we will bring them to justice. So it's a massive investigation, and it's just the start of it that people are jumping up and down.
JB: You say it's just the start of it but there was that Finance Department commission of inquiry last year. This has been floating around for a number of years and was common knowledge, in a way, wasn't it?
SK: Yes and that Finance Department commission of inquiry also looked into Paraka payments and Paraka payments was one of the major issues that culminated in the Finance commission of inquiry. And in the Finance inquiry, Paul Paraka Lawyers features heavily and also in the recommendation that were made.
Prior to the Finance commission of inquiry there was the Amet inquiry, which was an internal government Justice Department inquiry, where Sir Arnold Amet headed the investigation and recommended that a full commission of inquiry be established because of instances of double billing and all manner of fraudulent behaviour that was going on within the Finance and Justice departments and Paraka Lawyers.
So out of that investigation the (former Prime Minister) Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare established the Finance commission of inquiry and even after the Finance Commission of inquiry was established and the findings were made, the fraud did not stop, it continued imperceptibly through structured and layered payment schemes. And the issues were brought to light and the payments continued on the PM's directive... a total amount of K80 million. So yeah, it's an age-old issue and the fraud has spread over a period of more than seven years.
So now we are getting an interesting signal from the government that they want to establish another Commission of Inquiry. I don't know what they're trying to establish when we've already established the findings... And we've looked at the bills from all angles and subjected it to a lot of scrutiny because we knew that it would be the subject of contest, if you like.
So we did that but now, after we've made our findings and we have taken action, now they are firing back at us and saying all manner of things, even accusing us of being politically compromised. It's just a joke, you know. We are not that cheap. Our honour, integrity and professional diligence cannot be traded, and we deny everything outright.
JB: Can you keep going with your work or is it going to be technically impossible if the NEC has disbanded you?
SK: Well, because we are multi-agency... the main aim (of its opponents) is to stop this case, particularly the criminal prosecution aspect of it. But you see the wheels of justice have turned and it's unstoppable, how can they stop it? Even if they disband us, the police will still carry on their constitutional duty.