Abbott urged to act on PNG allegations

The anti-corruption chief seeking to arrest Papua New Guinea leader Peter O'Neill over graft allegations has called on Australia to demand the Prime Minister respect and restore rule of law or risk losing Australian support.

In a high stakes move, the former head of PNG's corruption taskforce, Sam Koim, has flown to Australia to meet Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Labor and the Greens to urge Australia to support moves for Mr O'Neill to be questioned over his suspected involvement in a fraud scandal and to reinstate the top officials who Mr O'Neill sacked last week. Mr Koim's trip places the Australian government in a delicate situation, given it relies on PNG's support to run the Manus Island detention centre.

Mr Koim, along with PNG's Attorney-General and deputy police commissioner were dismissed by Mr O'Neill last week after they moved to arrest and question the Prime Minister over fresh evidence that allegedly implicates him in a major corruption scandal that has plunged PNG into crisis.

"Because of the move to arrest Mr O'Neill to face the evidence we have gathered, he is striking back. Mr O'Neill is branding almost every institution that is involved in the law enforcement arena as compromised and that is a very dangerous and serious allegation by the Prime Minister of PNG. The time has come that Australia has to take a stand," Mr Koim told Fairfax Media.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to be drawn on the turmoil in PNG, saying last week that it was an internal matter.

But Mr Koim urged the federal government to consider suspending its large aid program in PNG or implementing other punitive measures. He also cautioned Australia against staying quiet in order to preserve PNG's co-operation with Australia over the Manus Island detention centre and refugee resettlement program.

Anti-corruption NGO Transparency International is also calling on Mr O'Neill to respect the rule of law in PNG and several of the group's Australian directors, including Griffith University Professor A. J. Brown, will accompany Mr Koim in Canberra as he meets with Ms Bishop on Tuesday.

Over the weekend, Mr O'Neill said he would ask the PNG police to investigate Mr Koim for his role in a "major political plot" to bring down the Prime Minister.

But Mr Koim dismissed these allegations as baseless and said they had only arisen after his corruption taskforce had gathered fresh evidence implicating Mr O'Neill in an allegedly corrupt scheme run by top PNG lawyer Paul Paraka.

"Based on this evidence, we reached a firm belief that the Prime Minister has a case to answer. Mr O'Neill should submit to the same laws that everyone else is subjected to. He has allegations against him and he should make himself available to the authorities," Mr Koim said.

Mr Paraka has been charged over stealing tens of millions of dollars in PNG government funds using a letter of authority allegedly authored by Mr O'Neill. Much of the allegedly stolen money has been laundered through Australian banks in wire transfers which the Australian Federal Police are understood to have examined.

Last week, Fairfax Media revealed a confidential letter from Mr Koim to police commissioner Toami Kulunga that stated that Mr O'Neill's "denial of authoring and/or signing the directive letter [used by Mr Paraka to steal funds] … can no longer hold water".

The letter from Mr Koim stated that Mr O'Neill had allegedly engaged in ''misappropriation, conspiracy to defraud and official corruption''.

In response to efforts to arrest him, Mr O'Neill has denied any wrongdoing and obtained a court order preventing his arrest.

Mr Koim called on Australian police to freeze all funds that Mr Paraka had deposited into Australian bank accounts. He also said the decision to disband his taskforce would erode the significant steps PNG and Australian authorities had been taking to prevent the flow of corrupt funds from PNG to Australia, including large wire transfers by "politically connected people".

Follow Nick McKenzie on Twitter @ageinvestigates

The story Abbott urged to act on PNG allegations first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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