Minister Lavulavu ‘must come’ to her fraud trials, she cannot use parliamentary privilege to defend herself: Crown Prosecutor

    Crown Prosecutor Sēmisi Lutui has clarified queries from media about the Minister of Infrastructure Akosita Lavulavu’s fraud trials after the king opened parliament earlier this month.

    The Minister and his disgraced husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu were defending themselves in court against allegations of defrauding over half a million pa’anga from the government’s schools subsidiary funding grants.

    They also face another separate trial in the Magistrate court in which they were being accused of using forged documents in a land lease deal in Vava’u.

    The Supreme Court is expected to reach a verdict soon.

    The media wanted to know if Akosita can use the legal protection of parliamentary privilege to tell the Supreme Court she was busy with her parliamentary responsibilities and therefore she could not attend her trial.

    Lutui said the Supreme Court can order Akosita to be arrested if she did not turn up to her trial, the Kakalu ‘O Tonga newspaper reported.

    He said in cases like this the power of the court can overrule the power of parliament.

    The Tongan constitution clause 73 for immunity from judgement made the prosecutor’s clarification clearer.

    It said:

    “The members of the Legislative Assembly shall be free from arrest and judgment whilst it is sitting except for indictable offences and no member of the House shall be liable for anything he may have said or published in the Legislative Assembly”.

    The advice from the government’s law office came after Opposition Leader Semisi Sika said there were no more excuses for Akosita to continue in her various ministerial roles on full pay when she is expected to spend most of her times in court.

    Akosita rejected the calls for her resignation saying there was no legal basis for her to resign. She echoed the Prime Minister’s house rule of “Let the law rule” insisting she was innocent until proven guilty.

    The Tonga courts have no power to dismiss or order a Cabinet minister to resign. That power rests with the authorities of the Prime Minister.

    The governor of Ha’apai was convicted and ordered on Friday to pay a fine of $12,500 in the Supreme court this week for unlawful possession of large amount of turtle meat.

    We asked the Prime Minister whether he would sack the governor but he has yet to respond.

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