Yama fails in latest bid to quash criminal charges

It is a familiar story, one that PNGi has reported on numerous times before. The nation’s elite politicians and businessmen using their wealth and position to mount numerous legal challenges to delay criminal charges or civil sanction.

Peter O’Neill, Paul Paraka, Patrick Pruaitch and many more are all adept at manipulating the system to retain their positions of power, and avoid answering allegations of misconduct.

Peter Yama is another notable example who has been playing the game for decades, misusing both his powerful connections and the legal system to avoid serious questions prompted by allegations of fraud, which have been supported by documentary evidence.

The latest episode involves allegations that Yama conspired with others to defraud the Manam Resettlement Authority of K6 million. Yama is currently trying to avoid arrest over the matter, one of several tactics he has used numerous times in the past to face down serious allegations.

In 2009, the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance recommended that Yama be referred to police for what the Commission found was an unlawful K38 million claim against the State made in 2002. The Commission also revealed Yama’s involvement in another questionable claim brought against the Health Department.

There is no evidence on the public record the police ever took any steps to investigate these matters.

Similarly in 2003, the Supreme Court concluded Yama had abused legal process in an effort to win a K10.5 million pay day from Telikom PNG, and in a separate case, in 2004, the same Court found company records filed by Peter Yama were forged.

Although the Supreme Court specifically recommended the forgery be referred to the police for further investigation, there is again no evidence that either of these matters was ever followed up on.

In 2010, the senior Australian journalist Rowan Callick described Yama as the ‘policeman turned security godfather turned politician’ who appears ‘untouchable, capable of pulling strings in every quarter’. More than a decade later, the evidence to support this view is still mounting, though more recently the police have, however reluctantly, been forced to be a little more proactive.

In 2017, it was alleged that Peter Yama had bribed two election officials during the counting of votes for the Madang governorship. Although the two officials were arrested, charged and convicted, the Provincial Police Commander ordered no action be taken against Yama himself.

It was a decision the National Court later condemned. Justice Canning found the police commander had ‘actively prevented’ any investigation of Yama, and in doing so had harshly and oppressively breached the human rights of the original complainant.

When the court ordered police to investigate Yama, that was far from the end of the matter. Yama initiated a court action to try and stop the police from arresting him. The National Court dismissed Yama’s case.

So Yama appealed to the Supreme court, and in the meantime sought an order to ‘restrain the police from inviting, interviewing, arresting or attempting to arrest him pending the determination of the appeal’.

The Supreme Court again dismissed Yama’s request. When the case did eventually come before the Madang District Court, the charges against Yama were dismissed for a lack of evidence. Rather ironically then, while the bribe takers, John Tumaing and Nixon Kavo, went to trial and were convicted in the National Court, the alleged bribe giver was not required to go to trial owing to a lack of evidence.

But that irony has not deterred Peter Yama from continuing with the same tactics. 

Rather than facing down the charge that he conspired to defraud the Manam Resettlement Authority in a public trial, Yama is using court proceedings to try and avoid even being arrested and interviewed under caution.

Last week, the National Court heard the argument of Yama’s lawyers, who allege that the Police Commissioner and the State have breached Yama’s rights and that the warrant for his arrest was therefore unlawful. They also argued that any criminal prosecution should be stayed pending a judicial review.

The learned judge strongly disagreed. He found that Yama’s claim was without merit and an abuse of process

“The criminal process has not been completed. It will not be circumvented by civil procedure in judicial review,” Justice Miviri said.

Indeed, the judge was so unimpressed by Yama’s ‘procrastination’ and waste of court and police time, he ordered the plaintiffs pay the defendants’ costs of the proceedings on an indemnity basis.

Although the application to void the warrant of arrest has been dismissed, already three and a half months have passed since the arrest warrant was issued on May 31 and it is more than two years since the alleged crime was said to have been committed.

We have yet to see if Yama will pursue his usual course and try and appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, history suggests that he will.