ONeill, Paraka and a Senior Whistleblower

In December 2018 charges against controversial lawyer Paul Paraka were dismissed by the Magistrates Court. A fresh prosecution has now been successfully instated on a single count of misappropriation.

During the interim period, Paraka claimed ‘I will prosecute those bastards myself’. He was referring to those who had mounted the original criminal case against him.

One individual in particular was singled out for scorn by Paraka. Former Solicitor General Neville Devete, who now resides in Australia. Paraka claimed he would personally travel to Australia to have Devete charged.

For Neville Devete, this was just another episode in what he claims is a long-standing campaign to intimidate and threaten him after he blew the whistle as Solicitor General on an alleged criminal conspiracy between Paraka, Peter O’Neill, and a number of senior politicians.

The details of his precarious situation as a whistleblower were set out in a Federal Circuit Court case in Australia.

In the decision delivered by Judge Howard, careful consideration is paid to the threats faced by those who expose corruption in Papua New Guinea. The Court concluded there is credible evidence that those who speak out, face the real threat of violence and persecution. This makes successful prosecutions extremely difficult to achieve. Don’t we know it.

In today’s Court Report PNGi will go through this Australian case that so incensed Paul Paraka.

FSR17 & Ors v Minister for Immigration & Anor [2018] FCCA 2931

On 4 November 2014, the former PNG Solicitor General, Neville Devete, applied for a protection visa in Australia. Devete alleged that he and his family faced the risk of serious harm if they returned home.

The application was initially rejected by the Minister for Immigration. Neville’s appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal was also dismissed.

Neville petitioned Australia’s Federal Court to judicially review the decision, which he claims was unlawful. The court agreed.

According to the Federal Circuit Court: ‘The First Applicant [Neville] made a complaint in 2012 to the National Fraud and Anticorruption Squad in PNG in relation to improper payments made to a lawyer in PNG named Mr Paul Paraka’.

Devete was the first to blow the whistle. He claimed Mr Paraka unlawfully received a total of K71.8 million from the Government. This matter was reported by Devete on 14 March 2012. Mr Paraka was arrested in 2013 and charged in July 2014 with numerous counts relating toi the alleged corruption.

Devete in his protection visa application claims associates of Paraka and certain senior politicians involved in the criminal case were threatening his family:

The applicants’ Protection visa application forms indicate that threats have been issued by persons believed to be personally associated with Paraka. It is indicated that the applicant’s home in Port Moresby is being monitored by people believed to be associated with politicians and those that have been charged by PNG fraud and police investigators. There is reference to the applicant’s sons in Port Moresby being tailed in their car.

In the initial Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision it was noted: ‘This [alleged harassment and intimidation] was when there was disclosure in the media of the complaint that the Applicant had made in March 2012 to the National Fraud and Anticorruption Squad’.

The Tribunal hearing accepted the following evidence:

  • The Paraka scandal has created factions within law enforcement in PNG.
  • The former “Task Force Sweep” and the National Fraud And Anticorruption Directorate have not been supported by other arms of law enforcement
  • Offices have been ransacked
  • Protection Officers of an individual leading one of the corruption organisations have been “disarmed” and this person has made claims of being monitored
  • A man named Detective Sergeant Premenga seems to have been threatened or came under some form of attack in October 2014
  • A  death threat was made to the Finance Minister, James Marape.

In a letter dated 27 February 2015, Mr Matthew Damaru, Director of the National Fraud and Anticorruption Directorate, sets out the risks Devete faces in PNG. He informed the Australian government:

I … confirm that (the First Applicant [Devete]) will also be needed in the immediate future to directly provide further evidence against the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O’Neill for his direct involvement in signing and unlawfully authorising the payment of K71.8 million to Paul Paraka Lawyers. … Two other senior Members of Parliament are also heavily implicated in this case and investigations are continuing … My office is also fully aware that (the First Applicant) has real security concerns lately due to recent threats that have been issued by unknown people to himself and his immediate family as a result of his personal involvement in these cases.

Damaru continues:

I would state that we are not able to guarantee (the First Applicant’s) personal safety and security in PNG including that of his family due to the complex nature of this case, which so far is Papua New Guinea’s biggest fraud case.

Chief Superintendent Damaru sent a further letter dated 9 October 2017 to the Registrar of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in Sydney.

The Paul Paraka investigation led to the Prime Minister, Peter O’Neil investigation in which most threats, assaults and intimation occurred mainly against Police Fraud Investigators due to the fact that all witnesses involved have not been exposed. However, when the trials are conducted and witnesses appear to give evidence, they will be exposed and are most likely to be subjected to threats and intimidation and physical harm. The practice of retaliation is inevitable in PNG which results in loss of many high profiles cases when witnesses succumb to such threat and intimidation, and refused to give evidence in fear of retaliation by accused’s family members or kinsmen or tribesmen.

Damaru concludes:

If the police fraud investigators can be threaten and intimidated, and assaulted using the other Policemen, the security of all the witnesses including (the First Applicant) and his family in Paul Paraka and including Prime Minister Peter O’Neil’s case is not guaranteed.

A letter from Dr Allan Marat confirms the same:

I am also fully aware as a national leader that this case is highly sensitive and poses a serious security concern for the (First Applicant) and his family, as our PNG Parliament is yet to debate and pass into law, our whistle blowers legislation.

While Neville’s judicial review was successful , the Court noted the ‘significant financial strain’ he and his family were put under as they awaited the outcome of the protection process. This contrasts with a statement to the media by Paula Paraka who alleged Devete’s ‘been living a luxurious life down in Australia since 2013’.

While Paraka categorically denies Devete’s account, Devete’s story echoes that of many whistleblowers who face extreme stress and pressure.

Those who are prepared to take a stand in the interests of the nation commonly face prolonged campaigns of intimidation, and actual violence. This goes a long way back, to the days of the commission of inquiry into the forestry sector.

A New York Times article vividly describes this watershed moment in PNG’s history:

After the results of the [forestry] investigation became known, the chief investigator, Tos Barnett, a judge, was attacked in the streets of the capital. The gang of unidentified men screamed, “Kill him! Kill him!” as they stabbed him with sharpened screwdrivers. “I had stab wounds to my lungs, chest, legs, buttocks — wherever they could stab me,” Mr. Barnett said. He has suggested that the attack was organized either by logging interests or by politicians implicated by the investigation

Judges, police, witnesses, and whistleblowers are all in the crosshairs. Is it any wonder so few cases ever make it to trial.