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The secrets behind O’Neill’s hidden fortune – The Midas Touch Part III

July 14, 2017 Leave a comment

PNGi has released Part 3 of The Midas Touch, an in-depth report into Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s business empire and how its development has been interwoven with his political career.

Lift Off: Prime Minister, Millionaire reveals O’Neill’s private business interests have included oil and gas industry support services, construction, airlines, insurance, finance and banking, consumer lending, information technology, funeral services, hospitality and gambling, travel and tourism, and consultancy services.

It also shows how, as Peter O’Neill’s political career reached its crowning peak in 2011, his business empire underwent an astonishing period of growth.

At its height, this empire commanded assets worth in excess of K250 million, although even this figure doesn’t account for any corporate holdings held on trust for O’Neill or held through other proxy shareholdings.

There is nothing necessarily sinister in a business empire, but in a national economy where the state is a major investor and consumer, having a Prime Minister personally possessing significant stakes in key markets, generates fertile ground for conflicts of interest.

Avoiding conflicts of interest is a demand enshrined in the Constitution, Section 27 states a leader must not ‘ place himself in a position in which he has or could have a conflict of interests’ and ‘shall not use his office for personal gain’ or ‘enter into any transaction or engage in any enterprise or activity that might give rise to doubt in the public mind’.

To test how Peter O’Neill matches up to these standards, PNGi has mapped his business empire, through a convoluted web of companies in which he has an explicit stake. In doing so, PNGi has uncovered evidence that O’Neill’s businesses have directly benefited from government contracts and contracts awarded or funded by international financial institutions and foreign governments.

Key findings include:

  • O’Neill’s business Wild Cat Developments, which he has recently sold, was one of the first to benefit from the construction of the controversial new Western Pacific University, in the Prime Minister’s Pangia-Ialibu electorate.
  • Wild Cat has also earned significant multi million kina revenues from Asian Development Bank funded projects.
  • O’Neill used the Prime Minister’s office to patronise a joint-venture he shares with Sir Luciano and Lady Ni Yumei Cragnolini, without seemingly revealing his beneficial interest.
  • Remington Technology, another company in which the Prime Minister has a substantial stake, has benefited from contracts with state entities, government departments, and Australian government agencies.

Lift Off: Prime Minister, Millionaire also reveals O’Neill owned entities have consistently breached important reporting requirements set out in the Company Act 1997.

These findings raise a series of important technical questions:

  • Has Peter O’Neill declared all his interests to the Ombudsman Commission and sought special dispensation for his voluminous range of business interests?
  • Did he recuse himself from any National Executive Council (NEC) decision, which his companies would benefit from, directly or indirectly?
  • Have the contracts complied with the governance protocols of the relevant International Financial Institutions and foreign government agencies?

The findings also raise some ethical issues:

  • Is it right for senior political figures to retain large business holdings?
  • Should a Prime Minister be able to personally profit from decisions made by his government, even where he has recused himself from the decision making process, and declared his assets to the Ombudsman Commission?

PNGi says The Midas Touch is based on months of digitally assisted analysis of several thousand corporate records, hundreds of official documents and media reporting. It comprises three parts:

  1. The Secret Millionaire: Inside the O’Neill Empire
  2. The Big Skim: Peter O’Neill Inc meets Don Sawong and Tos Barnett
  3. Lift Off: Prime Minister, Millionaire

Judge recommends MP’s prosecution for role in fraud

June 25, 2017 1 comment

MP Joseph Lelang is the latest to be implicated in the scandals surrounding Eremas Wartoto

MP Joseph Lelang has already been the subject of a Leadership Tribunal, where he pleaded guilty to failing to file his annual statements. He has also been recommended for prosecution by the Task Force Sweep, now the National Court is recommending his prosecution…

Source: Radio New Zealand

A Papua New Guinea court has recommended the prosecution of an MP for his role in facilitating a multi-million dollar fraud.

Eremas Wartoto was sentenced to 10 years in jail on Friday. The sentencing judge has recommended a MP, Joseph Lelang, also be prosecuted for his role in the fraud. 

On Friday, the National Court sentenced a businessman, Eremas Wartoto, to 10 years in prison after he misused US$2 million of public funds paid to his transport company for the renovation of a high school.

In his judgement, Justice George Manuhu said the then-public servant and now MP, Joseph Lelang, and another public servant Brian Kimmins, lied to the court in giving evidence against Wartoto.

Justice Manuhu found the pair had a role in facilitating the payments to Wartoto’s company for which he said they should be prosecuted.

If Mr Lelang is prosecuted, he would not be the first MP ensnared by Eremas Wartoto’s business dealings.

Wartoto rose to prominence in 2013 when a former planning minister, Paul Tiensten, was jailed for misappropriating US$3.6 million to Wartoto and his other company, Travel Air.

Stanley Liria to contest Peter O’Neill’s seat – Is there more than meets the eye?

April 24, 2017 1 comment

The Post-Courier has reported that Port Moresby Lawyer, Stanley Liria, ‘has put up his hands to challenge Prime Minister Peter O’Neill for the Ialibu-Pangia seat’.

Stanley Liria

Liria told the Post-Courier:

‘I can no longer stand by and allow the unprecedented levels of mismanagement continue, both within Ialibu-Pangia and across Papua New Guinea as a whole’.

These are strong words, directed at a man, Peter O’Neill, who in fact has championed Stanley Liria’s career, first as a lawyer, then as a real-estate developer.

Is this simply the case of ‘biting the hand that feeds’, or is there more to this political challenge than meets the eye?

Lets review some key facts:

  • Liria is a close wantok of the Prime Minister.
  • Peter O’Neill helped champion Liria’s legal career, and even launched Liria’s book encouraging MPs to buy it (see ‘additional evidence’ below).
  • Liria is the sole shareholder of Paga Hill Development Company (PNG) Limited (PHDC), a controversial real-estate developer behind the Paga Hill Estate.

 

In October 2012, there was an international media storm when it was discovered key executives in the project, had been slammed in 3 Commission of Inquiries, 4 Public Accounts Committee inquiries and 2 Auditor General Reports. Rather than investigate PHDC for ‘corrupt dealings’ (to quote the Public Accounts Committee), in late October 2012 the Prime Minister declared Paga Hill Estate a project of national significance (see below).

  • Since 2012 the O’Neill government has agreed to act as a formal partner in the Paga Hill Estate project, offering any investor significant tax breaks.
  • Prime Minister O’Neill features in the investor brochure issued by Liria’s company this year. In it O’Neill declares the Paga Hill Estate a ‘key project site’ for APEC 2018.  

So how can Liria publicly claim to oppose mismanagement by the O’Neill government, when arguably his real-estate development company is a prime beneficiary of this mismanagement.

Are we getting the full picture?

One theory is that Liria is, in fact, an ally of Prime Minister O’Neill, and is being sent into the Ialibu-Pangia electorate to split the opposition vote. If he can successfully do this, it will ease O’Neill’s return to the throne.

An alternative factual scenario, which is being put forward by PNG Blogs, is that Liria has turned against his former friend and benefactor – and joining forces with a number of senior politicians who want to steal the O’Neill throne.

There is evidence to support this hypothesis:

  • Stanley Liria is close friends and has business links with Governor William Powi, who wants to topple the PM.
  • Liria is the long-time front-man for the Icelandic-Australian businessman Gudmundur Fridriksson, a man whose businesses have been censured for corruption and other illegal activities in 1 Commission of Inquiry, 4 Public Accounts Committee inquiries and 2 Auditor General reports.
  • Peter O’Neill’s close friend and ally, Minister Justin Tkatchenko has accused Fridriksson and PHDC of bankrolling a rival candidate in his seat of Moresby South, to the tune of K1 million. The rivalry between Tkatchenko and Fridriksson goes back to the Bill Skate days, when both were foreign businessmen competing for the profitable affections of Mr Skate.
  • Tkatchenko has lobbied for a Commission of Inquiry into the Paga Hill Estate, which if O’Neill enacted could lead to Fridriksson and Liria’s downfall.
  • William Duma is a hidden partner in Paga Hill Estate.

So there are two hypotheses:

  1. Stanley Liria remains a close ally of Peter O’Neill, who has benefited from the PM’s support, and in repayment will help divide the opposition vote, as a fake rival.
  2. Liria has split from O’Neill, and believes his own business interests, and those of his close associates, will be better served by forming a rival coalition that can take the Prime Ministership from O’Neill.

Additional evidence

O’Neill vouches for new law book 

Post-Courier, 12 January 2005, page 2
A LOT of parliamentarians do not know much about Papua New Guinea law despite being the country’s lawmakers, Opposition Leader Peter O Neill said yesterday.
Praising Southern Highlands lawyer and author Stanley Liria for writing a book titled A Law Awareness for Papua New Guinea – Our Guide to The Rule of Law, Mr O Neill said he would recommend to his parliament colleagues that they buy the newly published book.
He said the book would help MPs understand the basics of PNG law, which was important as most parliamentarians passed laws without having a sound knowledge of the legal system.
I will try to see if I can get some members of Parliament, as I said many of us don t come from a legal background, we pass laws on the floor of Parliament that we don t sometimes understand,  Mr O Neill said.
There is no real explanation before the bills get passed.
A book of this nature will assist us (MPs) in doing so, we will certainly write to each member and see if they are interested in trying to get this book (in order) to understand the workings of the law and the judicial system of the country.
Talking about his first book that took five years to put together, Mr Liria said the title was written in simple English and should attract readers from all walks of life.
He said the book should dispel the perception that only lawyers and law enforcement officers should know about law and would strive to ensure its selling price is kept to a minimum to attract a wide readership.
Mr Liria said the 94-page book would cost between K25 and K30 and people wishing to buy a copy or place orders could contact him on mobile 684 8273 or e-mail crossrds@hotmail.com

Jimmy Maladina’s Australian silk recruited by PM O’Neill to lead Duma/Pok inquiry

March 8, 2017 2 comments

Having promised a Commission of Inquiry, under the predicted Chairmanship of (Rtd) Judge Graham Ellis, who cut his teeth in the National and Supreme Court during the 1990s, working a number of high profile anti-corruption inquiries, PM O’Neill has been in reverse gear ever since. 

This culminated first in an announcement by the Attorney General, that his government had somehow overlooked court proceedings barring any Commission of Inquiry from being convened.

John Griffin QC

Then we learnt yesterday that an ‘administrative inquiry’ would be convened, under the leadership of John Griffin QC.

John Griffin QC is most well-known for dashing the hopes of the country, when he managed to secure for his client Jimmy Maladina, a suspended sentence after the latter confessed to misappropriating K2.65 million during his tenure as Chairman of the National Provident Fund, a time when he was joined at the corporate hip to Peter O’Neill. The court let Maladina go with a suspended 8 year sentence, and a 2 year good behaviour bond. On the other hand, a middle man Maladina acted through received 6 years prison.

Later Griffin managed to get even Maladina’s conviction overturned by the Court, despite the fact Maladina ‘admitted freely that he had committed the offence’.

Given Jimmy Maladina declared himself bankrupt, and claims to have sold off his Australian properties to pay restitution – it can only be assumed Maladina has good friends who could pay for a silk of Griffin’s stature.

However, with a budget of K2 million for this ‘administrative inquiry’ into Duma/Pok, paying for high priced silks will not be a problem.

We are told the inquiry began on 7 March, and will continue for 4 weeks, with a finishing date of 28 March. Ahem, that’s actually 3 weeks!

For this 3 week work period,  the commission will have a budget of K666,666 – perhaps an appropriate enough sum! Even if the entire commission team furiously shovelled kina into an open fire, they couldn’t physically burn this sum of cash in three weeks.

If we assume Griffin QC is paid K85,000 per week – the sort of sum a QC fetches – that gets us through K255,000 over the three week period. You would need a team of 8 QCs working around the clock to expend this K2 million budget.

We assume in the interests of ‘accountability and transparency’, to quote the PM, he will publish the inquiry’s budget in full?

As we watch O’Neill’s stance over Manumanu dilute on a daily basis, it must be asked – did the PM overplay his original hand against Duma and Pok, and are we now seeing all parties backtrack so they can resume cordial relations at the top of the trough following this year’s national elections? 

APEC Minister’s planning application creates confusion over his company name

January 10, 2017 Leave a comment
site-plan

Minister Tkatchenko is planning to build a lavish mini-estate

Papua New Guinea’s Minister for APEC, Sports and Special Events is applying for planning permission to build an elaborate mini-estate on an 8.5 acre property, 15 Upper Brookfield Road, recently purchased, in his wife’s name, in a the suburbs of Brisbane.

There is, however, confusion in the official documentation submitted by the Tkatchenko’s to the Brisbane City Council, over the name of the company making the development application.

On June 1, 2016, Tkatchenko’s wife, Catherine, signed a form stating the planning application for 15 Upper Brookfield Road is being made by an Australian company, Kitara Pty Limited.

owners-consent

The Planning Consultant firm Catherine and Justin have hired to manage their planning consent application, Clegg Town Planning, then submitted the full development application to Brisbane City Council. In their covering letter, dated 9 June 2016, Clegg’s clearly states the application is being made on behalf of their client, Kitara Pty Limited.

application-letter-9-june-2016

As an extract from the Australian Securities and Investment Commission shows,  Kitara Pty Ltd is an Australian listed company owned by two Chinese nationals, Lam and Hung Kam, based in Melbourne.

What is the connection between the Kam’s and Minister Tkatchenko’s planned rural estate in the Brisbane suburbs?

Perhaps none, as other documentation filed in respect of the planning application for 15 Upper Brookfield Road uses a completely different company name, Kitoro No.33 Limited – documents such as the Development Application Lodgement Form, lodged on 19 July, 2016:

application-lodgement

And the IDAS Form:

idas-form

Kitoro No.33 is, of course, a PNG registered company long associated with Minister Tkatchenko and some of his dubious business dealings.

So what is going on here? Did Catherine forget the name of her and her husbands company is Kitoro No.33 and mistakenly sign a form saying it was Kitara Pty Limited?

Or was this an attempt to intentionally mislead and deceive?

Maybe Kitara Pty, and the Han’s, are somehow connected to the Tkatchenko’s and their planning application?

But if so, why the sudden switch in the documentation to using the name Kitoro No.33?

If nothing else, someone needs to clear up the confusion and inform the council and the people of Brisbane just who is making the development application!

PNG’s APEC Minister’s lavish plans for exclusive Brisbane hideaway

January 3, 2017 7 comments
site-plan

Design drawing showing the features and layout for Tkatchenko’s planned Brisbane estate

Papua New Guinea’s Minister for APEC, Sports and Special Events, Justin Tkatchenko, is planning to build for himself a lavish multi-million dollar mini-estate on 8.5 acres of land in the rural Brisbane suburb of Brookfield.

elevation-views

The estate will comprise an ornate main dwelling (shown above) with feature spiral staircase and cupola roof, a three bed-room second dwelling, large gym, animal stables, an ornamental lake with two fountains, a large bird aviary complex, 25 metre swimming pool, two pavilions, garages, sheds, large greenhouse and other outbuildings.

plan-main-dwelling

Plan view of the ground floor of the main dwelling with its ornate circular staircase, veranda over-looking the fountain and lake and alfresco dining area

All this on a piece of land Tkatchenko purchased for a cool $1.77 million in November 2015, as revealed on PNG Blogs .

aerial-view

Aerial view of the Tkatchenko’s land in the semi-rural suburb of Brookfield

Tkatchenko has engaged the exclusive architectural firm, Argo, to design his estate and Clegg Town Planning consultants to guide the proposed development through the planning process.

Tkatchenko already owns another home in Brisbane, in the exclusive inner city suburb of Fig Tree Pocket, purchased in 2011 for $1.1 million.

12-cubberla-street

Tkatchenko’s existing Brisbane home in the exclusive Fig Tree Pocket suburb

Minister Tkatchenko has a long history of unanswered fraud allegations and has been exposed for lying to Parliament over contracts awarded to his family business; the same business, Kitoro No.33, that is now involved in the development of 15 Upper Brookfield Road.

site-photo

Tkatchenko inspecting the boundaries of the Brookfield land where he will build his mini-estate

Being a Minister in PNG can seriously expand your wealth and your waistline

November 2, 2016 4 comments

waistline

If you can judge the wealth of a man by the size of his house then the last four years have been very kind to Justin Tkatchenko. Based on the value of his property holdings in Queensland he might have tripled his wealth as a Minister since 2012!

Last week PNG Blogs revealed that Minister Tkatchenko has recently purchased a piece of land in the Brookfield area of Brisbane for a cool $1.6 million. Brookfield is a largely rural superb about 13km west of the Brisbane city centre.

For his $1.6m (about K3.8 million), Tkatchenko has acquired an empty block of land on which Brisbane City Council records reveal, he now intends to build a house, secondary dwelling, horse stables, greenhouses, garage, gym, a 380 square metre aviary and a lake!. When completed, his new mini estate, will be worth well upwards of $3 million.

But the Brookfield estate is not the only property Tkatchenko ownes in Brisbane. In 2011 he purchased No. 12 Cubberla Street in the exclusive suburb of Fig Tree Pocket for a cool $1.1 million (approximately K2.6 million).

Fig Tree Pocket is an up-market riverside suburb 5km west of the Brisbane CBD. The houses are spacious and widely spread and there is a large proportion of trees and parks and little noise or traffic.

No. 12 Cubberla Street is described as “a stunning family home” where “Country Style Acreage Meets Inner City Convenience”.

12-cubberla-street

This is how the real estate agents describe Justin’s current home in Cubberla Street… 

“Set in the most idyllic setting offering the peace and tranquillity of a country manor, this majestic home is only minutes to suburban facilities and the CBD virtually on its doorstep. Free of neighbours and so in touch with nature this type of living is hard to find.
A sprawling, elevated and landscaped 2467m2 parcel of land is graced by a brick home of equally large proportions offering space for the whole family. The master built home offers beautiful informal and formal spaces for hassle free entertaining.
The stunning atrium style lounge is a stylish centrepiece of the home compete with double
sided fireplace that integrates perfectly with dining and kitchen and meals area. A gourmet kitchen with high quality appliances is set adjacent to the entertainers deck with a captivating scenery outlook.
A private and elegant master suite allows for a tranquil parents retreat complete with walk-in robe, lavish ensuite and access to the expansive wrap around verandahs. Two remaining bedrooms on the upper level both boast built-in robes, while the fourth bedroom on the lower makes for a great guests quarters with a separate rumpus room leading out to the manicured gardens.
The oversized garage easily accommodates 3 cars with ample storage and work bench space. This stunning family ho
me also features a study and is perfect for the growing family and provides a wonderful private and secluded oasis for children to play and explore”.

So, from $1.1 million in 2011, after five years as a Minister, Justin now owns property in Brisbane worth over $2.7 million and has plan to turn that into more than $4 million once his new home is built!

2016 Guide to National Crisis Issues Available for Download Here!

May 11, 2016 1 comment

PNG-Flag

From PNGBLOGS

Our country needs the active help of those who often don’t do anything more than read social media postings if we are to keep Peter O’Neill from defeating truth and justice.   In the coming weeks we the people of our land will either be jumping in the streets with pride and joy that we have defeated evil or we will feel intensely shamed for years to come by the knowledge that we were defeated not because we were wrong, but because we didn’t give the same effort as the evil people in power did.

To help you take action PNGBlogs has  created a selection of papers and postings from around the internet as a guide to students and everyone else to learn more about the national crisis issues that are now reaching the point of explosion.

Until all of us as PNGeans become much better educated on the issues, we will not be motivated enough to correct the problems. Each and every one of us must learn more about the facts of the matter. That’s why we put together this collection of information for you.

Please download the pdf that is attached to this article and educate yourself. The resource book covers all of the following critical disaster areas and provides facts and figures.

CONTENTS OF THE RESOURCE BOOK:  CURRENT STATE OF PNG DEVELOPMENT, CORRUPTION IN PNG, LOSS OF FREEDOM, OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE, GROWING DICTATORSHIP, PNG EDUCATION AND HEALTH, FINANCIAL MISMANAGEMENT, UBS LOAN, PAUL PARAKA SCAM, ISRAELI GENERATOR PURCHASE, PACIFIC GAMES, SABL LAND GRAB, OK TEDI GRAB, STATE OWNED ENTERPRISES.

Please help PNG by doing one or more of the following now:

  1. Email the link to this page to your family and friends now, or e-mail the resource book as an attachment.
  2. Photocopy and post articles that you find of special interest in your workplace or in public places.
  3. If you still have ties to the village, organize your wantoks to read these materials and develop awareness programs back home.
  4. Make hard copies available to our university and college students quickly. We cannot do this because we are not on the ground at UPNG, Unitech, UNRE, or other campuses that are becoming active. The students can use this information when they go out and do awareness on the issues that relate to their demands.

Click here to download this book of information

Is Australia willingly turning a blind eye to corruption in PNG?

June 16, 2015 1 comment

“There is some scepticism that Australia is held over a barrel with the asylum seekers deal and is willingly turning a blind eye to the corruption and rule of law problems that are plaguing the host nations –PNG and Nauru.”

Australia’s stance on corruption – will all roads lead to Nauru (and Manus)?

President of Nauru-Baron Waqa

President of Nauru-Baron Waqa

The allegations reported in the Australian media of an Australian mining company bribing high ranking Nauru politicians is a real test for Australia. The stakes are high. Nauru hosts one of the asylum detention centres under Australia’s “Pacific Solution” policy. Nauru, together with Manus in Papua New Guinea, has relieved Australia of the influx of boat people to Australia and the Australian Government needs the ongoing political support of the host nations to continue the operation of the detention centres.

Thanks must go to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) who, without fear or favour, investigated this case, which could potentially harm Australia’s relationship with Nauru. From the media reports, it seems that the AFP is at an advanced stage of the investigation and arrests might be made soon.

Australia is a member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery and a party to the key international conventions concerned with combating foreign bribery, such as the Anti-Bribery Convention and the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

Australia is also the immediate past president of the G20. According to the fifth principle of the G20 Guiding Principles on Enforcement of the Foreign Bribery Offence:

“Investigation and prosecution of foreign bribery should not be subject to improper influence based on concerns of the national economic interest, the potential effect upon relations with another State, or the identity of the natural or legal person involved.”

To remain a corruption-free trading partner in the region, Australia needs to show the way in dealing with bribery allegations such as this, even if it comes at a cost.

There is some scepticism that Australia is held over a barrel with the asylum seekers deal and is willingly turning a blind eye to the corruption and rule of law problems that are plaguing the host nations –PNG and Nauru. This case will test those claims.

Australia also has to contend with the recent adverse findings of the Financial Action Task-Force (FATF) [pdf] that:

“Australia remains at significant risk of an inflow of illicit funds from persons in foreign countries who find Australia a suitable place to hold and invest funds, including in real estate.”

When it comes to bribery of foreign government officials, it takes two to tango: the bribe-giver and the bribe-taker. Getax, the Australian mining company alleged to have been involved in supplying the bribe, may have its directors and the company itself prosecuted by the AFP under the Australian law. But we should not forget the Nauru officials who may have demanded the alleged bribe.

Under the Australian Criminal Code Act 1995, only Australian companies and individuals engaged in bribing an official in a foreign country can be prosecuted. This is not dissimilar to the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 (FCPA). There is, however, a way around it. If the proceeds of the predicate or underlying offence, in this case bribery, are found to have been laundered to Australia, then Australia can mount money-laundering actions against the persons implicated under the Proceeds of Crimes Act 2002 (POCA).

Prosecuting any Nauru officials will require the cooperation of the Nauru authorities. The Nauru Anti-Money Laundering Act 2008 makes provisions for cooperation with a foreign state in the investigation and prosecution of money-laundering offences (see section 80 of the Act). Nauru itself can prosecute citizens who launder the proceeds of a bribe overseas (see section 6 of the Act). Nauru also has the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 2004, which directly corresponds with the Australian Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1987 to facilitate cooperation in the prosecution of persons for criminal matters.

The precedent that Australia sets in this case could assure the rest of the Pacific Island countries that Australia does not tolerate corruption and is prepared to pay the price to combat cross-border corruption. Or it could send a message that in cases of corruption Australia will only go after the bribe-giver, and not government officials. It seems that the cat has now been let out of the bag and there is only one way – investigate all the offenders.

* Sam Koim is Chairman of the multi-agency, anti-corruption body Taskforce Sweep and Principal Legal Officer at the Department of Justice and Attorney General, Papua New Guinea.

 

Trip to retrieve PNG bible from US cost more than king’s ransom

May 5, 2015 5 comments
Cover of King James Bible

Cover of King James Bible

The Australian

The Papua New Guinea government has funded a visit to the US last week led by parliamentary Speaker Theodore Zurenuoc, with five other MPs and 30 ­pastors, to receive a bible printed in 1611 that had been bequeathed to the country by an evangelist who died aged 77 in Indiana.

Their travel costs considerably exceeded the up to $95,000 value of the bible — whose translation was authorised by King James I of England and VI of Scotland, and which is one of a few hundred original copies that survive.

READ MORE ON THIS STORY
The Strange and Mysterious Case of the Donated King James I Bible To Papua New Guinea
When Will We Finally End the Tricks and Deceptions of MPs Like Zurenuoc and Kouza?

Mr Zurenuoc claimed the copy he brought back to PNG from the family of Gene Hood, a Nazarene Church pastor who operated and hosted gospel radio stations and missionary programs, is one of only five, and is “the best and most well preserved”.

The return of the bible party to Port Moresby’s Jackson’s Airport was acclaimed by a rapturous crowd of about 20,000 people.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill formally received the bible, carried through the crowd on its wooden case, from Mr ­Zurenuoc on a stage specially built for the ceremony.

Mr O’Neill said the new ­“national treasure … adds to the sense of significance as we ­define our nation” as it ­approach­ed the 40th anniversary of its ­independence.

The bible will be housed in the parliament building, but details have not yet been announced.

Mr Zurenuoc was accused of Taliban-style cultural terrorism, when 18 months ago he launched a “cleansing exercise” to destroy the parliament’s traditional ­carvings and totem poles, which took three years by specially commissioned artists to produce — but which he viewed as pagan and demonic. He ordered these massive hardwood carvings, including an ornate lintel, which showcased the country’s diverse traditional skills, to be chopped up and burned.

PNG Trade Union Congress general secretary John Paska led criticism of the Speaker’s actions then and last week.

“I value antiquity and like others welcome the arrival of this bible and its placement in parliament,” Mr Paska said.

But he said he parted company “from those who advocate religiosity as a panacea”.

The core issues, he said, “are about good governance, abuse of power, and the fundamental constitutional tenet of freedom of religion and individual rights to worship in whatever religion or denomination”.

The Post-Courier newspaper hosted a lively debate in its pages on the issue. “In the past, those who opposed God were stoned to death, and Paska should be happy that PNG is a democratic country, so he will never face that consequence,” wrote Isaac Seeto of ­Hohola.

The PNG Catholic Bishops’ Conference stated that plans to “enthrone” the bible in parliament provided a good opportunity to ­reflect on the real meaning of “Word of God,” which has been present in “the heart language” of Papua New Guineans for more than a century.

And PNG Anglican Archbishop Clyde Igara expressed ­concern that only a single group, the PNG Bible Church, was involved in the episode — about which the country’s mainstream churches were kept in the dark.