12 Vanuatu MPs arrested over graft – reports
Vanuatu police have reportedly arrested 12 MPs, the latest twist in a scandal that saw a stand-in leader pardon himself and 13 others while the president was out of the country.
The Pacific island nation has been reeling from revelations that parliamentary Speaker Marcellino Pipite issued the decrees on Sunday (local time) while President Baldwin Lonsdale was abroad.
Pipite said he was using his powers as acting president, because Lonsdale was in Samoa at the time, meaning he had the top job, and had claimed he was acting for the good of the country.
But an angry Baldwin overturned the pardons on his return, vowing in a televised address "to clean up the mess" of Vanuatu's notoriously unstable politics.
The Pacnews news service said on Friday 12 of the parliamentarians involved in the scandal, including Pipite, had been arrested and were being held at a jail in the capital Port Vila.
It said they had been charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Two others – Deputy Prime Minister Moana Carcasses and Serge Vohor – were not arrested, Pacnews added.
The original bribery allegations centred on payments of 35 million vat (NZ$455,000) made by Carcasses to 13 other politicians last year while they were all in opposition.
All 14 were convicted last Friday of giving or receiving corrupt payments and are due to be sentenced on October 22, Pacnews reported.
The government of Prime Minister Sato Kilman, who is yet to comment on the case, has only been in power since June.
The Pacific archipelago is still recovering from a deadly category five storm in March that destroyed homes and crops and contaminated water supplies.