Alleged P.M. plotter opposes Govt. extradition request

A Court in Australia has been told that the Samoan Government might have to wait three years, while it is being determined if a man accused of conspiring to kill Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, is eligible for extradition.

On Friday, Talalelei Pauga vigorously opposed the extradition request. What's more his legal team told the Extradition Magistrate in Brisbane that they expect the investigation of allegations against Pauga, and determinations about whether the man is eligible to be sent to Samoa for trial, to take three years, with evidence sought from Samoa. 

His lawyers claim that Samoa has been resistant to sharing requested for information, which will delay evidence gathering and thus the extradition proceedings. 

The Samoan Government is determined to see Pauga tried locally. 

Pauga's next hearing is scheduled for February 2021.

Pauga has been in custody since late August, after Samoa requested his extradition from Australia in April and his warrant of arrest was acted on. According to information obtained under the Australian Freedom of Information Act, Samoan authorities allege Pauga contacted a co-conspirator via a video call where they agreed to assassinate Tuilaepa.

“Mr. Pauga transferred monies to this co-conspirator, arranged for him to obtain a gun with the help of his other co-conspirators, and instructed him to shoot the Prime Minister at the Catholic Cathedral at Siusega, and later at a fish market at Savalalo,” an internal letter from the Australian Attorney General’s office to the that nation's Attorney General reads.

In the Warrant of Arrest issued by the Supreme Court of Samoa, authorities allege Pauga conspired to kill Tuilaepa on Tuesday 30 April and Monday 12 August 2019. The Warrant was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. 

He is undergoing two separate matters in Court: on whether he is eligible for extradition, and whether he has been unlawfully detained whilst the first matter is resolved, which his lawyers have been arguing is the case.

On Friday, the parties spoke to their submissions on Pauga’s extradition before a Commonwealth call-over court.

In the submission filed by his lawyers, Pauga claims that he opposes his extradition “vigorously,” saying his extradition is being sought in order to punish him for his political opinions and that he is not guaranteed a fair trial back in Samoa.

Pauga states he suspects he will be prejudiced in his trial and punished because he is Australian and because of his political opinions.

His lawyers have also highlighted the judicial uncertainty in Samoa as it waits on the passage or withdrawal of three controversial pieces of legislation.

The Land and Titles Court Bill, the Judicature Bill and the Constitution Amendment Bill would reshape the judiciary and establish a separate Land and Titles Court outside the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

A letter to Samoa by Australian former High Court Justice Michael Kirby was included as evidence. In it, Justice Kirby argues the legislation would undermine the rule of law and judicial independence in Samoa. 

They also included a piece of writing by lawyer Fiona Ey, who published an explainer into the Land and Titles Court proposed changes for The Interpreter and an editorial by the Samoa Observer published in early December.

On his Australian nationality, his lawyers submit several pieces of evidence that Samoa “patently discriminates” against foreign nationals, in its legislation and in the allocation of space for repatriation flights during 2020.

Pauga is also submitting to have his extradition matter allocated to a Magistrate, and for his case to stop being rotated through whichever magistrate is rostered on a given day. 

His legal team have been representing Pauga since September 2019, when they made initial contact with the Australian Attorney General anticipating the extradition request after the Samoa Observer reported that the Samoa Police Services were moving on the extradition.

At the time, Police Commissioner Fuiavailiili Egon Keil confirmed the Police had made an application for extradition, and a search warrant was executed based on a financial transfer between Australia and Samoa they believe was connected to the conspiracy to murder.

The actual extradition request is dated April 2020 (in October, Attorney General Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale told the Samoa Observer the request was made in February).

Meanwhile, his lawyers Greg Finlayson and George Mancini insist he is being detained unlawfully. The matter will be heard in the Queensland Supreme Court next Wednesday 16 December. 

Here in Samoa, his alleged co-conspirator Taualai Leiloa will be sentenced next week and two other co-defendants will be heard in August 2021.

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