A series of unprecedented developments has left the government of Vanuatu in chaos. On Friday, the speaker of the national parliament was among 16 MPs convicted of bribery. But with the President out of the country on a visit, he then used his position as acting president to pardon his fellow defendants, and himself. Neal Conan traces the story in the Pacific News Minute.
The key figure in the case is Moana Carcasses, ousted as prime minister of Vanuatau last year. As he turned over the office, Carcasses asked the new PM to complete a project he'd been unable to finish, a five star hotel and casino to be built with Chinese investors on land that that Carcasses partly owned.
As that project languished, a Hong Kong businessman transferred half a million US dollars to Carcasses's account. He and his confederates used then bribed members of parliament to vote to oust the new prime minister and return Carcasses to power. After that vote, this past summer, Carcasses became deputy prime minister. But a few MPs refused the bribe, turned state’s evidence and, last week, Judge Mary Sey found all but one of the defendants guilty after a trial that featured descriptions of envelopes stuffed with ten thousand Vatu notes exchanged in back rooms and on a school bus. Among the guilty, speaker of parliament Marcellino Pipite.
Under Vanuatu's constitution, the speaker serves as acting President when the President is out of the country, so, with President Baldwin Lonsdale in Samoa - Pipite pardoned himself and his fellow defendants. Pipite told reporters the move was necessary to maintain peace and unity. On his return to Port Vila, President Lonsdale declared "No one is above the law," He apologized to the public and added, "I am considering my options on how I will clean up the dirt."