Former PM pleads not guilty in bribery and corruption trial

Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas, Vanuatu’s former Prime Minister and a current MP for Pentecost Constituency, has entered a not guilty plea this week to charges of bribery and corruption laid against him over an alleged event in 2016.

Mr Salwai is facing two counts of corruption and bribery of officials contrary to Section 73 (2) of the Penal Code [Cap 135], an offence that carries up to 10 years imprisonment.

The Supreme Court in Port Vila has set down 10 September for a pre-trial conference to hear the details of the 11 charges laid against the former Prime Minister and three fellow MPs and former MPs, all of whom have also pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Those charged along with Mr Salwai are the former Agriculture Minister and a current MP for Luganville Constituency, Matai Seremiah; a former MP for Malekula, Jerome Ludvaune; and the former MP for Tafea Outer Islands, Tomker Netvunei.

The charges laid against the four politicians and former politicians have been laid under Vanuatu’s Penal Code and Leadership Code Act 1998 following alleged events on 22 and 23 November of 2016.

As well as the two charges of corruption and bribery of officials, Mr Salwai is also facing two counts of bribery against Section 23 of the Leadership Code Act, two additional counts of conflict of interest against Section 24 of that act, and one count of perjury against Section 17 of the Penal Code.

It is alleged that Mr Salwai bribed the former Malekula MP, Mr Ludvaune, by offering him the position of Health Minister to persuade him to withdraw his support for an Opposition no-confidence vote motion against Mr Salwai, who was Prime Minister at the time.

Mr Salwai is also accused of bribing the former MP for Tafea Outer Islands, Mr Netvunei, by offering and later appointing him to the position of Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, with the aim of influencing how Mr Netvunei voted on the same no-confidence motion.

Mr Ludvaune and Mr Netvunei allegedly corruptly received the offers of the appointments.

Mr Seremaiah who was then and still is an MP for Luganville Constituency, was charged with facilitating the bribery and corruption by removing signatories on the motion of no-confidence.

The Prosecution Office claims that the actions of those involved constitute the offering and acceptance of bribes, with the former Prime Minister aiming to defeat the no-confidence motion.

The Supreme Court’s Justice Viran Molisa Trief said the court will appoint a different judge to hear the case as she has been working closely with the two parties including Mr Salwai during his term as Prime Minister.

The parties had argued it was not right for Justice Trief to hear the case.

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