Vanuatu politicians guilty of corruption pardon themselves while president is away

Parliament speaker Marcellino Pipite and 13 other politicians were accused of accepting bribes of up to 1 million vatu to help overthrow the previous government

Nick Perry
Wellington
Wednesday 14 October 2015 07:50
Comments
Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale was away when Marcellino Pipite issued the pardons
Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale was away when Marcellino Pipite issued the pardons

The South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu has found itself in political chaos following an extraordinary few days in which 14 politicians were found guilty of corruption but were then pardoned by one of their own while the president was abroad.

The events have created a constitutional crisis for President Baldwin Lonsdale, who promised he would find a legal avenue to “clean up the mess.”

“Vanuatu's credibility has been tarnished throughout the world, and as head of state, I am deeply sorry to see this,” Lonsdale told reporters on Monday, according to the Vanuatu Daily Post.

On Friday, the Supreme Court found Parliament speaker Marcellino Pipite and 13 other lawmakers guilty of bribery. A judge said many had accepted bribes of 1 million vatu ($9,000) to help overthrow the previous government.

Tiny Pacific Vanuatu cleans up after devastating Cyclone Pam

But the next day, Pipite signed a pardon for himself and the others. Because the president was away, Pipite was the acting head of state.

He told the Australian Broadcasting Corp he signed the pardons out of concern for the nation's interests rather than his own.

“I decided to make such orders to maintain the peace, unity, in this country,” he said.

But the move has angered many people in Vanuatu, who had turned out in large numbers to hear the Supreme Court verdicts. Many hoped the verdicts would mark an end to the corruption which has plagued the country's political system.

“People are sick to death of the ongoing changes in government and the corruption issues,” said Kiery Manassah, a former government public relations officer.

He said there were rumors there would be a legal challenge to the pardons Tuesday but nothing had eventuated. The men were due to be sentenced next week, he said, but for now it remained unclear whether that would proceed.

“At the moment, it's very, very confusing,” he said.

Vanuatu is continuing to recover from Cyclone Pam, which struck the archipelago in March. The cyclone killed at least 11 people and affected 180,000 by destroying homes and crops. The country has a population of 275,000.

AP

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in