Tongasat a “shell company” and financially weak PM says as battle continues outside court

'Oku taupotu 'i lalo heni ha fakamatala faka-Tonga ki he ongoongo ko 'eni'

Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva has claimed Princess Pilolevu Tuita’s satellite company is inactive and financially weak.

Hon. Pōhiva was responding to a number of accusations raised against him in a petition recently submitted to the king.

The petition’s organisers, former cabinet ministers and MPs Sione Teisina Fuko and lawyer Williams Clive Edwards, have accused Hon. Pōhiva of unlawfully using government funds to pay his own legal costs and those of the Public Service Association in the court case against  Tongasat.

The case involved the illegal transfer of a TP$90 million Chinese grant to Tongasat.

The Prime Minister has denied the accusation and said the decision was made by the Acting Attorney General ‘Aminiasi Kefu after a number of considerations and communications among plaintiffs’ and defendants’ legal counsellors.

The Prime Minister claimed that after a decision by Lord Chief Justice Owen Paulsen on August 17, 2018 declaring that the transfer of the money was illegal, Paulsen also ruled that Tongasat and the government must pay the plaintiffs’ legal costs.

Hon. Pōhiva said in a statement to Kaniva news and other news media that the Acting Attorney General made his decision based on the fact that the illegality of the transfer of the money was caused by the government and not Tongasat even though Tongasat was directly involved with the deal. 

Hon. Pōhiva also claimed Tongasat was financially weak and could not pay the whole or part of the plaintiff’s legal costs.

“Today the company’s status is just a ‘shell company’,” the Prime Minister said.

The Prime Minister also said there was little hope that Tongasat’s appeal against the Supreme Court decision would succeed.


Tonga’s venture into satellite communications began in 1987 when the American satellite business operator, Matt C. Nilson, persuaded the late King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV to sponsor a satellite system over the Pacific.

The king agreed and gave right to the operation of Tonga’s satellite slots to his only daughter Princess Pilolevu.

The company, which was named Tongasat or Friendly Islands Satellite Communications Ltd, was 60 percent owned by Princess Pilolevu  and intended to control equatorial satellite slots and a single satellite.

Mr. Nilson was Tongsat’s managing director and had a 20 percent stake in the venture.

In the 1980s, when he was leader of the opposition, Hon. Pōhiva revealed the deal in his newspaper, Kele’a.

Hon. Pōhiva accused the king of breaching the constitution by giving Princess Pilolevu the rights to the business as he believed the space in which the satellites were slotted belonged to the government and the nation as a whole.

“Tongan officials concede that they can put up none of the money for the satellites they are proposing, and that Tongasat has only six employees. But the princess who is Tongasat’s chairperson seemed offended by accusations that the satellite positions are being hoarded to make a quick profit,” the New York Times  said.

”Countries in Asia and the Pacific region have a need for better communications,” the New York Times reported princess Pilolevu as saying.

”They make it sound as if we are only interested in financial gain.”

The Princess’s fortune

The Princess’s involvement with Tongasat attracted worldwide media coverage.

She was often referred to by New Zealand media as a Princess who was turned into a millionaire by the satellite company.

US-based Fortune magazine estimated the princess’s earnings from Tongasat at US$25 million (NZ$38 million).

Princess Pilolevu has always claimed her involvement in Tongasat was party of God’s plan for Tonga to lead the way in Christianising China. It was why Tonga switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing and moved Tongasat to Hong Kong.

“I believe that God invented us to do this work otherwise we could have become just another foreigner knocking on doors in Beijing for years without having a chance to meet the leaders of China,” she said.

Significant risk

As Kaniva Tonga news reported earlier this month, Tongasat has appealed against a ruling that before any appeal against the judgement that the transfer of money was illegal, it must pay a security deposit to cover court costs.

In handing down the ruling, Lord Chief Justice Paulsen said it appeared an unnamed party was standing behind Tongasat and funding its appeal.

The judge said this was one of the factors he considered when ordering Tongasat to pay a TP$15,000 security deposit into the court before its latest appeal could be dealt with.

He said there was a significant risk that if costs were awarded against Tongasat they would not be paid.

Judge Paulsen said Tongasat’s financial condition appeared to be “parlous.”

The main points

  • Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva has claimed Princess Pilolevu Tuita’s satellite company is inactive and financially weak.
  • Hon. Pohiva was responding to a number of accusations raised against him in a petition recently submitted to the king.

For more information

“Unnamed party” funding Tongasat unlikely to pay costs if it loses appeal, Lord Chief Justice says; orders security deposit


  1. Na’e tukuaki’i ‘a e ‘Eiki Palemia ‘e Sione Teisina Fuko mo William Clive Edwards ‘i ha ‘ana polokalama letio ‘o pehe na’a ne tu’utu’uni ta’e fakalao ke totongi ‘e he Pule’anga ‘a e ngaahi fakamole faka-loea (legal costs) ‘a e Talatalaaki ko Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva mo e Kautaha ‘a e Kau Ngaue FakaPule’anga (Public Service Assocaition) ‘i he hopo felave’i pea mo hono ‘ave ta’efakalao ‘a e pa’anga ‘e $90 miliona tupu mei he Pule’anga Siaina ki he Kautaha Tongasat.
    Ko e tali eni ‘a e ‘EIki Palemia ki ai:
    (1) Ko e tu’utu’uni ko ia ke totongi ‘e he Pule’anga ‘a e ngaahi fakamole faka-loea (legal costs) ‘a e ongo Talatalaaki ‘I he hopo Tongasat ko e tu’utu’uni ia na’e fakahoko ‘e he ‘Ateni Seniale Le’ole’o, ‘Aminiasi Kefu. Na’e ‘ikai ko ha tu’utu’uni ia ‘a e ‘Eiki Palemia, pe ko ha’ane fekau ki he ‘Ateni Seniale Le’ole’o ke ne fakahoko.
    (2) ‘I he tu’utu’uni ‘aofangatuku ‘a e ‘Eiki Fakamau Lahi Owen Paulsen ‘i he ‘aho 17 ‘Aokosi 2018 ke tali ‘a e faka’ilo na’e fakahoko ‘e he ongo Talatalaaki ‘i he hopo sivile fekau’aki mo e Tongasat (fika CV48/2014), na’e to e tu’utu’uni ai ‘a e Eiki Fakamaau Lahi ke totongi ‘e he ongo Faka’iloa, ko e Pule’anga Tonga pea mo e Kautaha Tongasat, ‘a e ngaahi fakamole ‘a e Talatalaaki fekau’aki mo e hopo.
    (3) Na’e fetohi’aki leva ‘a e ‘Ateni Seniale Le’ole’o mo e kotoa ‘o e kau fakafofonga lao ‘a e ngaahi faha’i ke fakapapau’i pe ko e ha e founga
    ‘e vahevahe taau ‘aki ‘a e ngaahi fakamole ‘a e Talatalaaki ‘i he vaha’a ‘o e ongo Faka’iloa.
    (4) Kimu’a ke kamata ‘a e hopo sivile na’e kole ai ‘a e fakafofonga lao ‘a e Tongasat ki he ‘Eiki Fakamaau Lahi ke ne fai ha tu’utu’uni ‘o pehe ‘o ka faifaiange kuo ulungia ‘a e ongo Faka’iloa pea ke totongi ‘e he Pule’anga Tonga ‘a e kotoa ‘o e ngaahi fakamole ‘a e Talatalaaki koe’uhi tokua na’e ‘ikai ha ngaue hala ia ‘a e Tongasat fekau’aki mo e tu’utu’uni ‘a e Pule’anga Tonga ke foaki ‘a e pa’anga mei he Pule’anga Siaina ki he Tongasat.
    (5) Na’e kole ai ‘a e ‘Ateni Seniale Le’ole’o ki he Kapineti ke fai ange mu’a ha fakahinohino mahino kiate ia fekau’aki mo e kole ‘a e Kautaha Tongasat ke totongi ‘e he Pule’anga ‘a e ngaahi fakamole faka-loea ‘a e Talatalaaki ‘o ka fai ha ulungia. Na’e ‘ikai ke a’utaki atu ha fakahinohino mahino mei he Kapineti ki he ‘Ateni Seniale Le’ole’o felave’i pea mo e kole ‘a e Kautaha Tongasat.
    (6) Hili ‘a e tu’utu’uni aofangatuku ‘a e ‘Eiki Fakamaau Lahi ‘i he ‘aho 17 ‘o ‘Aokosi 2018 ‘oku mo’oni ‘a e taukave na’e fai ‘e he ongo Talatalaaki, na’e toe fai ‘e he fakafofonga lao ‘a e Kautaha Tongasat ‘a kole tatau fekau’aki mo e ngaahi fakamole faka-loea ke totongi pe ia ‘e he Pule’anga Tonga.
    (7) Ka na’e ‘ikai pe ke loto ‘a e ‘Eiki Fakamaau Lahi ke fai ha’ane tu’utu’uni fekau’aki mo e kole ‘a e Kautaha Tongasat, ka na’a ne fakaafe’i ‘a e fakafofonga lao ‘a e Pule’anga, ‘a ia ko e ‘Ateni Seniale Le’ole’o, ke fai ange ha’a ne fokotu’u ke fakafepaki’i ‘a e kole ‘a e fakafofonga lao ‘a e Kautaha Tongasat.
    (8) Na’e fakahoko leva heni ‘e he ‘Ateni Seniale Le’ole’o ‘a ‘ene tu’utu’uni tau’ataina ke totongi ‘e he Pule’anga ‘a e ngaahi fakamole ‘a e Talatalaaki, ka e ‘oua ‘e tuku ‘a e kole ‘a e Tongasat ke fai tu’utu’uni ki ai ‘a e ‘Eiki Fakamaau Lahi.
    (9) Na’e makatu’unga ‘a e tu’utu’uni ‘a e ‘Ateni Seniale Le’ole’o ‘i he ngaahi ‘uhinga ni ‘e fa:
    a) ‘Uluaki. ko e ta’efakalao ‘o e tu’utu’uni ke foaki ‘a e pa’anga na’e ma’u mei he Pule’anga Siaina ki he Kautaha Tongasat na’e makatu’unga ia ‘i he Pule’anga, ka e ‘ikai ko e Tongasat, neongo na’e ‘i ai ‘a e kaunga tonu ‘a e Kautaha Tongasat ki he tu’utu’uni na’e fakahoko ‘e he Pule’anga.
    b) Ko hono ua. ‘Oku ‘ikai ke ‘i ha tu’unga lelei fakapa’anga ‘a e Kautaha Tongasat ke ne totongi kakato pe tokoni pe aa ki hano totongi ‘a e ngaahi fakamole faka-loea ‘a e ongo Talatalaaki, he ko e tu’u ‘i he ‘aho ni, ko e kautaha ni ia ko e koto nge’esi pe (shell company).
    c) Ko hono tolu leva eni ‘o e ‘uhinga. ‘Oku ‘ikai totonu ke fakasitu’a’i pe tautoloi ‘a hono totongi ‘a e tohi mo’ua fakaloea ‘a e fakafofonga lao ‘a e ongo Talatalaaki koe’uhi ko hano tolotoloi ‘a e ngaahi alea fekau’aki mo hai oku totonu ke ne totongi ‘a e ngaahi fakamole fekau’aki mo e hopo.
    d) Pea ko hono fa: ‘Oku si’isi’i ‘aupito ha ‘amanaki lelei ki ha ikuna ‘a e tangi ‘a e Kautaha Tongasat ki he Fakamaau’anga Tangi ke tu’utu’uni ke to e fakahoko ha hopo fo’ou, pea pehe ki he tefito’i tangi ‘e taha ‘a e Kautaha Tongasat ke fakata’e’aonga’i ‘a e tu’utu’uni ‘a e ‘Eiki Fakamau Lahi ‘i he ‘aho 17 ‘Akosi 2018.
    (10) Hili hano sivi’i faka’auliliki ‘e he ‘Ateni Seniale Le’ole’o ‘a e tohi mo’ua fakangaue mei he fakafofonga lao ‘a e ongo Talatalaaki, na’a ne fakapapau’i ‘oku taau mo totonu e ngaahi fakamole ko ‘eni na’e ‘eke (claim) ‘e he fakafofonga lao, pea na’a ne fakahoko ai ‘a e tu’utu’uni ki he Fakahinohino Lao Seniale (Solicitor General) ke fakahoko ‘a e totongi atu ‘a e ngaahi fakamole faka-loea mei he vouti ‘oku tauhi ‘i he malumalu ‘o e ‘Ofisi ‘o e ‘Ateni Seniale ki he totongi ‘a e Ngaahi Mo’ua Faka-lao ‘o e Pule’anga (Government Liability Vote) , pea ‘oku faitu’utu’uni pe ki ai tokotaha ‘a e ‘Ateni Seniale Le’ole’o.


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