Tonga Government decision to sue former PMs in Tongasat $39n illegal payments revealed

Lord-Sevele-and-Lord-Tuivakano. Picture: KANIVA TONGA NEWS

NUKU’ALOFA, 26 SEPTEMBER 2018 (KANIVA TONGA NEWS) – A decision by Tongan government to sue two former Prime Ministers Lord Sevele and Lord Tu’ivakanō for their roles in the unlawful transfer of TOP$90 million (US$39 million) to Princess Salote Pilolevu and Tongasat has been revealed.

The Minister of Finance Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa has made the revelation in Parliament.

He said a court decision last month said Lord Tu’ivakanō and Lord Sevele had been involved in the illegal transfer of the money.

The Minister of Justice Vuna Fā’otusia told the House what Tu’i’onetoa has raised was a cabinet decision.

Fā’otusia said the cabinet can go ahead and file the lawsuit itself but it needed Parliament’s support.

Tu’i’onetoa said the government’s Auditor General reported in 2013 the transfer of the money was unlawful.

Tu’i’onetoa reminded the House that Parliament rejected the report and said the Auditor General was not a lawyer.

The money from China was paid to the kingdom of Tonga in two tranches.

Lord Sevele was Prime Minister in 2008 when the kingdom received the first tranche.

Lord Tu’ivakanō came to power in 2011 when the second tranche was received and was paid to Tongasat.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court has issued a declaration regarding the long running legal battle over the Tongan government’s payment to Tongasat of millions of dollars of Chinese money, brought by Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva and PSA.

The court declared the two payments of about TOP$90 million in aid grant funds received by the Kingdom from the People’s Republic of China in 2008 and 2011 was grant money and accordingly ‘public money’ within the meaning of the Public Finance Management Act.

The judge said the payments to or for the benefit of Tongasat pursuant to a purported agreement between the then Prime Minister of Tonga, Lord Sevele and Tongasat were invalid and unlawful.

Tu’i’onetoa was repeatedly interrupted by some noble MPs and Tongatapu 3 MP Siaosi Sovaleni in the House when he spoke on the cabinet decision to sue the two Prime Ministers.

Sovaleni attempted to correct Tu’i’onetoa and told him the two Prime ministers never paid the money to Tongasat the payments were made by their two governments.

But Tu’i’onetoa said the correction was wrong because a court decision has declared the payments made by the two Prime Ministers were illegal and invalid.

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