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RATTLES AT SUPREME COURT- CHIEF JUSTICE PERSONAL STAFF REFERRED TO FRAUD SQUAD

by PAUL IROKON

The Chief Justice of the National and Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea, Sir Salamo Injia from Tsak Valley, Wapemananda, Enga Province is certainly no stranger to controversy.

In the past, Sir Salamo Injia has been accused of killing a pedestrian (a young child) in a motor vehicle accident. He was accused of mismanaging money entrusted to the Court and charged, but his case ended up being dismissed. He was accused and charged with sedition, however the charge was later withdrawn. He was suspended as Chief Justice on the 9th of November 2011, however his suspension was later lifted. He stands accused of turning a blind eye to certain allegedly Gay expatriate Judges when sodomy in PNG is a criminal offence under the Criminal Code Act, and he also stands accused of playing politics and not performing his constitutional duties as required under the Constitution.

It is common knowledge among legal circles that Rachel Tony from Central Province, the private secretary (“personal staff”) to the Chief Justice of Papua New Guinea, Sir Salamo Injia, was reported to the Fraud Squad last year by a senior Judge after she was allegedly “caught and admitted to stealing more than K100,000” in public funds.

But to date the Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia, who was first appointed to the position of Chief Justice in 2008, has not taken any disciplinary action at all - as was expected - against his private secretary Rachel Tony, and the Fraud Squad has not yet charged her under the Criminal Code for the alleged offence of stealing.

He is now rumoured to be having an affair with his private secretary Rachel Tony.

The rumour has been doing the rounds among members of the Judiciary and legal fraternity in Waigani, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Members of the Fraud Squad are seen to be sitting idle on the case, not doing anything about it because the Chief Justice – one of the top seven most powerful men in the country - is seen to be protecting and harbouring her.

“He appears to be protecting his female staff from the Fraud Squad as well. The staff is still working for him,” an inside source said.

The Chief Justice’s failure to take any disciplinary action at all against his private secretary Rachel Tony, who has worked for him for around 8 years, has resulted in speculation and gossip that he is inappropriately involved with her in an intimate relationship.

Their close relationship has also raised suspicion that the Chief Justice may have also benefited from the proceeds of allegedly more than K100,000 in stolen money.

Another similar complaint centres on the Chief Justice’s perceived inability to perform his constitutional duties and functions as required by law in relation to the non-performance of a certain expatriate Judge

Allegedly, with the approval of the Chief Justice, Jeff Shepherd (not Greg Shepphard the lawyer of “Everything is an elephant here, there’s no pygmies” fame) who at the end of October last year was appointed a Judge for a term of three years, had - since his appointment as a Judge - been collecting a hefty salary as a Judge but had never sat in a court of law and performed his duties as a judge to preside over and hear cases before handing down judgements. He had not been handing down any decisions or judgements.

Judge Jeff Shepherd, also known as Jeffrey Leonard Shepherd, originally from New Zealand, who was basically getting paid for doing nothing with the Chief Justices approval, was recruited from Ashurst Lawyers the firm that employs the Chief Justices lawyer son Terry Injia.

Two more judges were recruited from the same law firm recently.

Ashurst Lawyers (Ashurst PNG) was formerly known as Blake Dawson Waldron Lawyers in PNG, however it is certified in PNG as a foreign enterprise to conduct business in PNG.

During the impasse Sir Salamo Injia’s lawyer son Terry Injia was employed by Steeles Lawyers, a law firm belonging to Foreign Affairs Minister Rimbink Pato.

There are now two registered companies called Steeles Lawyers belonging to Rimbink Pato. Previously there were three.

Steeles Lawyers was the law firm representing the East Sepik Provincial Executive Council (PEC) which took up the legal fight on behalf of ousted Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare in a special reference over which Prime Minister Peter O’Neill sought to have Sir Salamo Injia disqualified from presiding over, because of strong apprehension of bias.

One reason for apprehension of bias was because Terry Injia was assisting lawyer Ian Molloy with the case at the time. Another reason was because it was alleged by “eyewitnesses” that Sir Salamo Injia met the son of Sir Michael Somare, Arthur Somare, in the Ela Beach Hotel carpark at around 2 in the morning. Sir Salamo presided over the application filed to disqualify himself, subsequently - and not surprisingly - ruling against it.

The power to appoint a Chief Justice and to ensure that appropriate disciplinary action is taken against the Chief Justice primarily rests with the National Executive Council.

Section 169 of the Constitution establishes an office of Chief Justice of Papua New Guinea in which the Chief Justice “shall be appointed by the Head of State, acting with, and in accordance with, the advice of the National Executive Council given after consultation with the Minister responsible for the National Justice Administration”.

Grounds of removal of a Judge as provided for under Section 178 of the Constitution are:

(a) for inability (whether arising from physical or mental infirmity or otherwise) to perform the functions and duties of his office; or
(b) for misbehaviour; or
(c) in accordance with Division III.2 (leadership code), for misconduct in office.

‘Removal from office of Chief Justice’, under Section 179 of the Constitution, are:

(1) If the National Executive Council is satisfied that the question of the removal from office of the Chief Justice should be investigated, the Head of State, acting with, and in accordance with, the advice of the National Executive Council, may—
(a) appoint a tribunal under Section 181 (constitution, etc., of tribunals); and
(b) refer the matter, together with a statement of the reasons for its opinion, to the tribunal for investigation and report to it.
(2) If the tribunal reports that there are good grounds for removing the Chief Justice from office, the Head of State, acting with, and in accordance with, the advice of the National Executive Council, may, by notice in writing to the Chief Justice, remove him from office.
(3) The Prime Minister shall send a copy of the notice, together with a copy of the report of the tribunal, to the Speaker for presentation to the Parliament, and shall also forward copies to the Judicial and Legal Services Commission.

There appears to be definitely more than one conflict of interest, and a clear abuse of powers by the Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia during his tenure which is due to expire in 2018.

The latest complaints against Sir Salamo Injia further brings into question his reputation and standing to continue to occupy the position of Chief Justice, and add to a list of complaints and allegations that may become much longer if he is not removed and replaced forthwith with a senior Judge who can command and restore the respect of the public for the Office of the Chief Justice and the Judiciary in Papua New Guinea.