Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Task Force Sweep on investigations into Paul Paraka Lawyers

Task Force Sweep

This is the Task-Force Sweep’s position on the progress of investigations into alleged fraudulent payment of K71.8 million to Paul Paraka Lawyers (PPL) in light of the recent events. The initial allegations relate to a staggering amount of K71.8 million that was paid to PPL between February 2012 and May 2013.
As you all are well aware, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is the complainant and initiator of these investigations through a Prime Ministerial Directive he issued on 13th May 2013.
The investigations are carried out by Investigation Task-Force Sweep (ITFS). A number of people including the principal of PPL, Mr Paul Paraka have been arrested and charged. Their cases are going through the normal court process. My officers have been working on the court files since their arrests. Some files have been served whilst others are still being prepared.
Amidst the investigations, the Opposition Leader, Hon Belden Namah laid fresh complaints against Prime Minister O’Neill and Ministers Don Polye and James Marape for their alleged involvement in the payments made to PPL. The complaint was laid with the Police and a copy was served on Task-Force Sweep. In his wisdom, the Police Commissioner viewed that for the proper management of the conduct of these delicate investigations and given that ITFS was at an advanced stage of the investigations, referred the Opposition Leader’s complaints to ITFS.
ITFS has taken steps to exhaust all avenues of inquiry including obtaining records from banks, Department of Finance, Department of Treasury, Department of PM& NEC, Department of Justice & Attorney General and many others. We are interviewing all persons that need to be interviewed in this investigation and have obtained their written statements.
We have sought the advice of Southern Counsel (legal experts) on the sufficiency of evidence. We have involved the office of the Auditor General and other accountants to audit the trail of flow of illicitly obtained funds.
With respect to the alleged letter by the Prime Minister dated 24th January 2012, Prime Minister O’Neill himself publicly denied authoring that letter. However, we have independently interviewed officers from the Prime Minister’s Office and checked their outgoing correspondence register and Officers at the Department of Finance and inspected their manual and electronic incoming correspondence register. We have searched all possible avenues including PM’s Office, Department of Finance, Department of Treasury and banks for the original copy of the subject letter without any success. Nevertheless, we have forwarded a copy of the letter for forensic signature experts to test the authenticity of the signature.
A brief history of payments of legal fees to PPL should enlighten many people as to how this case has come about.
PPL was instructed by the State to act on a number of State civil litigation matters towards the end of 2002. The then Chief Secretary, Mr Joshua Kalinoe issued a stop payment directive in June 2006 on any outstanding legal fees owed to PPL. An internal departmental inquiry was instituted by the then Minister for Justice, Hon Bire Kimisopa in October 2006 concerning the allegations of improper payment of legal fees to PPL. PPL’s retainer brief out contract with the State was subsequently terminated in November 2006.
PPL challenged all these decisions in two separate judicial review proceedings in the National Court. PPL obtained orders in its favour staying those decisions and further for payment of outstanding legal fees. Those orders were then appealed to the Supreme Court by the State. Two separate Supreme Court stay orders were obtained by the State preventing any payments to Paul Paraka Lawyers, the latest being March 2007.
In May 2008, then Prime Minister, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare instituted a Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance concerning alleged improper payments of legal fees and out of court settlements, amongst others. PPL features prominently in that report.
Mr Paraka in a recent paid advertorial he took out on 20th May 2013, claimed that his law firm had outstanding legal fees that were not paid until the beginning of 2012.
We have extended our inquiries to ascertain whether PPL actually had outstanding legal fees and that those fees were not paid until beginning of 2012 as Mr Paraka claimed.
Contrary to the assertion by PPL, documents obtained from Department of Finance and the banks reveal that PPL continued to receive payments since March 2007 through a number of conduit law firms and a nominee company owned by Mr Paraka himself. Payments were also made directly to service providers on account of PPL. The payments which spread over almost seven (7) years runs into hundreds of millions of kina and not just K71.8 million which was paid between February 2012 and May 2013.
I am pointing out all of these to demonstrate that it is a massive investigation that needs a lot of collection and collation of documents, perusal of documents, thinking, analysing, compilation and reaching conclusions before taking penal actions.
We are also mindful of what information we release to the media as sometimes doing so can jeopardise our investigations. ITFS is not just another inquiry team that investigates and releases its findings for public consumption. We investigate and implement our own findings by taking appropriate penal actions using our various combined powers as a multi-agency team.
Although it is taking a bit of time, we are handling this delicate investigation with care. The law places an onerous duty on the State to build a strong case that would ultimately result in conviction. The journey from investigation through to conviction is convoluted with procedural requirements that we need to comply every step of the way.
“I can assure the public that we are doing all we can to see justice for all and we will make sure that no stone is left unturned. Again, I have to reiterate that our focus is not on people. We investigate an offence and the offence leads us to the offender. Whoever is connected by overwhelming evidence of an offence will be held accountable regardless of their status.”
With respect to the warrants that have been taken out by another officer of the Police for the arrest of the Prime Minister, Ministers Don Polye and James Marape, I am not privy to it so cannot say much. I am not in charge of that investigation and I cannot comment. That is a matter for the Police Force.
For your information, we also have a Police team that was seconded to work with us who are carrying out the criminal side of investigations as well.
Thank you and God bless you all.

Authorised for Release by
Sam Koim

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