Former Papua New Guinea PM arrested over purchases from Israel
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Former Papua New Guinea PM arrested over purchases from Israel

Peter O’Neill questioned on suspicion of buying generators from Israel without tender process, leading to allegations of misappropriation, abuse of office

Peter O’Neill, former prime minister of Papua New Guinea, in 2016 (YouTube screenshot)
Peter O’Neill, former prime minister of Papua New Guinea, in 2016 (YouTube screenshot)

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — The former prime minister of Papua New Guinea has been arrested and taken in for questioning over alleged misappropriation and corruption involving the purchase of two generators from Israel.

Peter O’Neill was arrested by police at Jackson’s International Airport in Port Moresby on Saturday after flying back from Brisbane, Australia, where he had been stranded because of COVID-19 lockdowns. He was later released on bail and will spend two weeks in isolation at his home due to virus restrictions.

O’Neill led Papua New Guinea for seven years before quitting in 2019 after a number of resignations from his government.

Police said the investigation involves the purchase of the two power generators from Israel for 50 million kina ($14.2 million) when O’Neill was leading the country.

In a statement quoted by the Australian Broadcasting Corp., police official Hodges Ette alleged O’Neill directed payments for the purchase of the generators without approval of parliament and without a tender process. Ette said police believe “there is reasonable evidence of offenses of misappropriation, abuse of office and official corruption.”

Police attempted to arrest O’Neill in October over a different issue but they withdrew the charge when O’Neill challenged its validity in court. He labeled it as politically motivated.

The politician’s long tenure ended in 2019 and was marked by a string of corruption allegations, including the purchase of 40 Maseratis for an Asia-Pacific leaders’ summit he hosted — in a country where few homes have reliable electricity.

He was forced to step down after allies balked at his decision to sign a multibillion-dollar liquefied natural gas deal with France’s Total and US firm ExxonMobil.

Local communities had complained bitterly about not benefiting from similar deals in the past.

After promising to resign and then trying to cling to power via the courts, he was ultimately replaced by his former finance minister James Marape, who vowed to clean up the government.

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