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Vanuatu: Fourteen Politicians Sentenced to Prison for Corruption

(Oct. 26, 2015) On October 22, 2015, the Vanuatu Supreme Court sentenced 14 sitting members of parliament (MPs), including the Speaker of Parliament and the Deputy Prime Minister, to terms of imprisonment after their conviction on bribery and corruption charges.  (Vanuatu Court Sentences MPs, Including Former PMs Carasses and Vohor, to Jail for Corruption, ABC NEWS (Oct. 22, 2015); Public Prosecutor v Kalosil – Sentence [2015] VUSC 145; Criminal Case 73 of 2015 (22 October 2015).)

Following a trial, the MPs were convicted of the offense of “corruption and bribery of officials” under section 73 of the Penal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of ten years imprisonment.  (Penal Code (Cap. 135) (2006 consolidated ed.), PacLII website; amendments to the Penal Code made in 2005, 2006, and 2007 can also be found on the PacLII website.)  The Deputy Prime Minister, Moana Carcasses, received a sentence of four years of imprisonment after being found guilty of 18 counts of corruption related to his paying bribes to 14 MPs.  Thirteen of the bribe recipients were each sentenced to three years of imprisonment; the fourteenth MP received a 20-month suspended sentence due to his pleading guilty at the start of the trial.  (Vanuatu Court Sentences 14 MPs to Jail for Corruption, BBC NEWS (Oct. 22, 2015).)

The payments took place in 2014 and amounted to a total of about 35 million vatu (about US$316,000).  All of those involved were in the opposition party at the time.  The payments were made by Carcasses to secure the MPs’ votes to oust the then-prime minister through a no-confidence motion, which succeeded on a second attempt.  (Public Prosecutor v Kalosil – Judgment as to verdict [2015] VUSC 135; Criminal Case 73 of 2015 (9 October 2015).)  The party in which Carcasses and the other MPs are members then came to power, with others of those convicted also becoming Cabinet ministers in the new government, including in the roles of Foreign Minister and Finance Minister.

The day after the October 9, 2015, convictions of the 14 men, the Speaker, Marcellino Pipite, who was temporarily the Acting President due to the President being abroad in Samoa, issued pardons for himself and the 13 other MPs.  The President, Baldwin Lonsdale, returned to the country and overturned the pardons on October 16.  (Oliver Holmes, Vanuatu President Revokes Pardons Passed by Maverick Speaker, GUARDIAN (Oct. 16, 2015).)  The Supreme Court subsequently also ruled the pardons unconstitutional on October 21, finding that the action was ultra vires the power of the President under article 38 of the Constitution, and also that the President had the power to revoke the pardons.  (Natuman v President of the Republic of Vanuatu; Vohor v President of the Republic of Vanuatu [2015] VUSC 144; Constitutional Case 6 & 7 of 2015 (21 October 2015); Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu (2006 consolidated ed.), PacLII website.)

The convicted MPs make up about half of the current MPs in the governing party.  Due to their sentences being longer than two years of imprisonment, the seats of the 14 men will become vacant at the expiry of the period of 30 days following their sentencing, in accordance with section 3 of the Members of Parliament (Vacation of Seats) Act (Cap. 174, 2006 consolidated ed., PacLII website).  The opposition bloc in Parliament has called for the current Prime Minister to step down and allow a new government to be formed; if he does not, they have indicated they will call a no-confidence vote during the week of October 26.  (Jane Joshua, Opposition Renews Call for PM to Resign, VANUATU DAILY POST (Oct. 23, 2015).)