Australian Senator speaks out about accused plotter

An Australian Senator has spoken out about the Government's application to extradite Brisbane-based Talalelei Pauga who has been accused of conspiring to assassinate Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi.

Janet Rice, a Senator for the Australian Greens, told the Samoa Observer she has concerns about whether Mr. Pauga's human rights were being upheld following a request to be extradited from Australia.

Those concerns, she said, were partly motivated by the Prime Minister's past interventions in court processes, including in relation to the alleged plotting case. 

“While it’s impossible to speak to the validity of the accusations as there is so little public information, we are concerned that there may be human rights issues at play in this case," she told the Samoa Observer in an e-mail on Monday.

“It is particularly concerning that the Prime Minister of Samoa has intervened by writing to the Ministry of Justice criticising bail decisions in relation to the two other individuals charged in the case associated with Mr. Pauga, especially considering Mr. Pauga has been a critic of the Samoan Prime Minister.

“It is of the utmost importance that Mr. Pauga be given a fair trial and that the Australian Government takes all appropriate steps to ensure his rights are protected.”

Her comments come after the Deputy Whip for the minor party and its representative for the state of Victoria earlier raised the issue of Mr. Pauga's treatment in Australia's Parliament, questioning whether he would receive a fair trial in Samoa. 

Senator Rice told the Australian Parliament on 1 December that she remains concerned and called for an “independent and fair process” to look at the allegations made against him. 

“I want to conclude tonight by mentioning a particular case of a Samoan Australian, Talalelei Pauga, who is in custody in Brisbane awaiting extradition to Samoa,” she told the parliament.

“It's important, of course, that there is an independent, fair process to examine any allegations against him. 

“However, it's a concern where we believe an individual may potentially not receive a fair and independent process.”

The Australian Senator, in her presentation to the parliament, also made reference to a 9 March 2020 letter, which Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi wrote to the Ministry of Justice and Court Administration C.E.O. Moliei Simi Vaai.

The two other individuals being jointly charged for conspiring to murder the Prime Minister is Malele Paulo or who is also known as King Faipopo and Lemai Faioso Sione. 

Senator Rice quoted the concerns expressed by an Amnesty International Pacific Researcher on the standard of evidence to be used against Pauga.

“Amnesty International [...] has said the concern here with the extradition charges is we don’t know what evidence they have to allege this person has been involved in any crime in Samoa and yet he has been detained and held in custody," she said. 

“Talalelei Pauga has been a critic of the Samoan Prime Minister and we think it is incredibly important that a person’s political activities should not result in political interference in what should be a fair and independent judicial process.”

Senator Rice pointed out the Amnesty International has also raised concerns about interference and concerns of the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges in Samoa and the absence of the separation of powers. 

The Victorian politician asked Australia’s parliament to pay close attention to Pauga’s case to ensure that there is an independent and fair process to examine the allegations against him. 

“And to make sure that this process is not being influenced by political consideration before allowing Mr Pauga’s extradition to proceed,” she said.

Pauga is scheduled to appear in an Adelaide Magistrate Court this week to hear an application to extradite him to Samoa. His application to oppose the extradition to Samoa was adjourned from November to 7th December. 

Pauga has been in detention at the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre since August 20, when he was arrested after Samoa's extradition request was received and processed by Australian authorities.

He appeared in court for the first time in late September, where his lawyers argued he has been unlawfully detained while the extradition case is considered. 

His lawyers say he should have seen a magistrate as soon as he was arrested, not six weeks later.

The Attorney General, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, confirmed in October that Samoa first requested Pauga’s extradition in February.

She said her office is “duty-bound” to pursue the case and begin criminal proceedings against him in Samoa, as there is “sufficient evidence” to support Samoa’s claims against him.

An Australian Attorney-General's Office spokesperson said:

"Extradition requests made to Australia are considered on a case-by-case basis and in accordance with the requirements of Australian law.

"The Extradition Act 1988 [...] contains a number of human rights safeguards that decision-makers must take into account.

"This discretion is unfettered and allows the decision-maker to take into account any relevant consideration, including, where appropriate, the likelihood of a fair trial."

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