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Pacific News Minute: Vanuatu Finance Minister to Bribery Charges

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A bombshell in court in Vanuatu yesterday, as the country's Finance Minister pleaded guilty to bribery charges.  13 other Members of Parliament face similar charges in a case set to go forward next week. As we hear from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute, the case revolves around a vote of no confidence earlier this summer.

On June 11th, three members of Prime Minister Joe Natuman's party crossed the aisle to support a motion of no confidence filed by opposition leader Moanna Carcasses, who wound up as the deputy to the new Prime Minister Sato Kilman.

Then it emerged that Carcasses funneled money into the bank accounts of 18 MPs – “loans” he said, for use in their constituencies”.  Bribes, the public prosecutor charged, to buy their votes.  One non-politician has been charged with complicity, a businessman named Thomas Bayer who allegedly provided the money - half a million U.S. Dollars.  Yesterday, Bayer and 13 Members of Parliament entered pleas of not guilty, but Finance Minister Willie Jimmy shocked the court by pleading guilty.  Tony Wilson, editor of the Vanuatu Independent, told ABC radio that Jimmy was not represented by counsel, appeared confused, and might well change his plea before the case goes to trial on Monday. Four MPs reportedly received immunity in exchange for their testimony.

What's not clear, is motive.  What did Thomas Bayer hope to receive from the government allegedly installed with his half-million dollars?  As you might expect, a new motion of no confidence is circulating in parliament.  If it succeeds, that would be the tenth change of government in Vanuatu in the past five years.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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