Former PNG PM O’Neill arrested for alleged ‘abuse’ on return home

Peter O'Neill
Former Prime Minister Peter O'Neill ... accused of corruption. Image: RNZ

By RNZ Pacific

Papua New Guinea’s former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has been arrested after arriving back in the country.

Police say O’Neill was arrested on suspicion of misappropriation, abuse of office and official corruption, regarding the purchase of two generators from Israel.

The Police Assistant Commissioner of Crimes, Hodges Ette, confirmed the MP was brought in for questioning yesterday afternoon in Port Moresby after flying in from Australia where he has been for much of the year.

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While anti-fraud police investigators have sought him for questioning for months, O’Neill was reportedly unable to return to PNG since March when border closures were implemented as part of the country’s covid-19 state of emergency.

The allegations against the Ialibu-Pangia MP relate to a purchase he made as prime minister in 2013 involving two 15-megawatt generators for PNG from an Israeli company, LR Group.

PNG’s parliamentary opposition filed a police complaint about the purchase in 2014.

Police allege that O’Neill directed payments for the purchase of the two generators from Israel without due consideration for procurement processes as required under the Public Finance Management Act.

Purchase not approved
The purchase of the two generators was not approved by the national Parliament, while police allege that the purchase did not go through required tender processes, nor was there legal clearance from the State Solicitors for such payment.

O’Neill is alleged to have directed the National Executive Council to convene and approve the payment of 50 million kina (US$14 million) for the generators after the purchase was made.

Ette said there was reasonable evidence for misappropriation, abuse of office and official corruption.

The former prime minister, who lost power to incumbent prime minister James Marape a year ago, is being allowed bail.

He is expected to be quarantined at his own residence for the next 14 days after the interview, as required under PNG’s covid-19 emergency measures for all citizens repatriating.

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