SYDNEY - Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has launched a legal fight against a warrant for his arrest on fraud allegations which he claims are "politically motivated", reports said on Tuesday.
O'Neill reportedly refused to leave the Pacific nation's parliament on Monday after the warrant was issued, and launched an urgent legal bid to have it stayed. "Today is a very, very, sad day for PNG politics when our country has to endure this kind of politically motivated stunt," he said on his People's National Conference's Facebook page late Monday.
"This continuing saga needs to be brought to an end, and in the correct way through the correct process of our legal system. "We will therefore strongly defend and test... issues raised today in our courts and I can assure you I will be cleared on any of these issues raised." The Royal PNG Constabulary's National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate issued the warrant for O'Neill's questioning on Monday, the PNG Post-Courier said.
It reportedly relates to allegations that he used his influence over a span of several years to facilitate the illegal payment of millions of dollars from the government to law firm Paul Paraka Lawyers. While the Paraka scandal has been rumbling for months, it came to a head after a letter on Monday from the chairman of the task force investigating the claims found "fresh evidence" against O'Neill should be investigated.
It said this came in the form of a January 2012 letter -- which O'Neill has denied authoring or signing -- compelling public officers in the Finance and Treasury departments to improperly draw funds to pay Paraka all outstanding legal bills. It said forensic examination not previously available of the letter, which bears the prime minister's letterhead, had now confirmed that the signature on the document belonged to O'Neill.
O'Neill, who took power in elections in 2012 after a bitter battle against former long-standing leader Sir Michael Somare, sacked two senior ministers in March for "creating instability".