Edwards warns Tongan police and auditor’s office over passport leak

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Tonga’s Minister for Justice Clive Edwards has warned Tonga’s Ministry of Police and the Auditor General, Dr Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa, over the leak of information about the Tongan passport scandal to Kaniva News and the New Zealand media.

In an interview with Radio and Television Tonga, the Justice Minister even implied that Australia and New Zealand might be involved in the leaks, claiming that they wanted to get access to Tongan Foreign Ministry records.

Edwards said New Zealand had condemned Tonga’s sale of passports.

Kaniva News reported that leaked e-mails showed that civil servants were worried that they had been ordered to provide passports to Chinese millionaire Sien Lee in direct contravention of an order from the king.

A report by the Auditor General’s office asked why 12 passports had been issued without the applicants holding naturalisation certificate. The response to the auditor from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff was that it was because of an order from “higher authority” to process them.

That “higher authority” has been identified as the Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano .

However, the Justice Minister said the Auditor General’s report regarding the issuing of passports did not mean there were criminal activities involved.

Edwards said Lee was issued with diplomatic passports in 1993 before he became a minister in 1996 and as Police Minister he was given order to issue Lee with more diplomatic passports.

Lee, a very close friend of the late King Tupou IV, may have been issued with up to 12 passports.

Defence

Edwards said he met with the Prime Minister yesterday morning and said Lord Tu’ivakano did not really comprehend the allegations.

Edwards stopped short of denying the auditor’s report.

“When auditing is taking place they can ask questions like why did that happen?” the Justice Minister said.

“They took note of it so that they could check, but that does not mean there was something wrong as the auditing is still processing.”

In his report, the Auditor General said: “This practice is unacceptable and puts the country’s reputation at risk and should be discontinued immediately.”

Information leaks

“Only two sources could leak the information – the Ministry of Police or the Auditor General, Dr Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa,” Edwards said in Tongan.

He said leaking the documents was illegal.

“It is horrifying,” Edwards said.

He said it would have been inappropriate for Dr Tu’i’onetoa to release any documents

The Justice Minister described Dr Tu’i’onetoa’s interview with TVNZ last week as “a diversion” designed to disguise the source of the information.

Database

Edwards said he also suspected information could have been leaked to  Kaniva News from within the police.

Edwards said the Police Minister asked him to move the Foreign Affairs database to the care of the Ministry of Police.

“They promised they would not release any record, but not even a month passed before this information was leaked,” Edwards said.

 “I am absolutely dissatisfied that my record, the ministers’ records as well as people’s records have been taken to Police.”  

He said Australia and New Zealand had been trying to get access to the Foreign Affairs database for years.

E-mails

The Justice Minister said they contacted Mahe Tupoiniua on Thursday regarding the information that appeared in the Kaniva News.

He said Tupouniua said it was his internal memo to the staff and he was not sure whether what appeared on Kaniva was his.

It is normal for the Tongan government to take legal action against media if it carries defamatory or libellous information.

Edwards did not mention any legal action being taken against media for reporting the e-mails between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff or the auditor’s confidential report.

The main points

  • Tongan Minister for Justice Clive Edwards has named Tonga’s Ministry of Police and the Auditor General, Dr Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa, as possible sources of information about the Tongan passport scandal that were leaked to Kaniva News and the New Zealand media.
  • The Justice Minister even implied that Australia and New Zealand might be involved in the leaks, claiming that wanted to get access to Tongan Foreign Ministry records.
  • New Zealand has previously condemned Tonga’s sale of passports.
  • Edwards was responding to a report in Kaniva News and on TVNZ last week that the Tongan Ministry of Foreign Affairs was ordered by Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano, to disobey a direct order from the king not to issue passports to a Chinese millionaire, Sien Lee.
  • It is believed  Lee may been issued with 12 passports, including four diplomatic documents.

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