Vanuatu: 15 politicians guilty

Vanuatu's flag
Vanuatu’s flag

We’ve watched Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill hit with an arrest warrant over corruption charges; we’ve seen government officials from PNG to the Marshall Islands go to jail the past several years for bribery, theft and corrupt practices.

But what happened in Vanuatu starting Friday has set a new standard for corruption in the Pacific islands.

On Friday, a Supreme Court judge ruled that 14 of 16 charged members of parliament — including the current Deputy Prime Minister Moana Carcasses, one former prime minister and the speaker — were guilty of corruption and bribery. A 15th member — the former Minister of Finance — had been found guilty earlier, only one was found not guilty by the court.

The landmark corruption verdict convicted over one-quarter of the membership of Vanuatu’s parliament. Carcasses was found guilty of making cash payments of $452,000 to his fellow members of parliament last year.

The verdict by Judge Mary Sey means the 14 members of parliament face up to 10 years in jail. The order set sentencing for October 22.

On Saturday, Speaker Marcellino Pipite, who was acting President for a short time, pardoned himself and the other 13 political leaders. The President, Baldwin Lonsdale, was in Samoa on a visit and returned the following day, Sunday. On his return, he called Acting President Pipite’s pardon an “unlawful decision” and added no one is above the law.

One issue raised by the pardon is that the authority to pardon grants the power of the President to pardon or set aside a “sentence,” but the 14 have not yet been sentenced.

Read more about this in the October 16, 2015 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.