P.M. laughs off Australian Senator's concerns
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi has laughed off concerns raised by an Australian Senator about a request to extradite an Australian man accused of conspiring to assassinate him.
Talalelei Pauga was taken into custody by Australian Police on 20 August following an extradition request from the Samoan Government; his case is currently before Australian courts.
Senator Janet Rice this week told the Samoa Observer she was concerned because Tuilaepa had “intervened” in the case by writing to the Ministry of Justice criticising Judges’ bail decisions.
The Senator from the Australian state of Victoria raised similar questions in Australia’s Parliament about whether the case was “influenced by political considerations”.
But the Prime Minister fired back at Senator Rice’s criticisms, characterising them as ill-informed and disrespectful of Samoa's sovereignty.
“She’s in the dark, and does not understand; therefore it’s better for their Government not to interfere with our Government matters,” said the Prime Minister.
Senator Rice is not a member of the Australian Government. She is the Deputy Whip of the minor opposition party the Greens, which occupy nine of the 76 seats in the Australian Senate.
But on his radio program with TV3 on Tuesday, the Prime Minister rubbished claims made by the Senator on whether judicial independence in Samoa was questionable.
“The three pillars of government are solid and [are also independent] and I am referring to the executive, legislative and [judicial branches], but [I] don’t respond to matters that do not involve the Australian Government,” he said.
“We don’t interfere with matters pertaining to the Australian Government, why do they think they can meddle with our issues?
“And this is happening because our people are the ones asking them questions.
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.
In an email interview with the Samoa Observer on Monday Senator Rice alleged the Prime Minister’s apparent involvement in the case raised human rights concerns.
“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 said.
“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.”
Senator Rice expressed concerns in Parliament in early December and called for an “independent and fair process” to look at the allegations made against him.
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.
Two other individuals being jointly charged for conspiring to murder the Prime Minister are Malele Paulo (who is also known as King Faipopo) and Lemai Faioso Sione.
The men have pleaded not guilty to allegations of conspiring to murder the Prime Minister and will appear for a trial in August next year.
A fourth man, Taualai Leiloa, of Lauli'i, has pleaded guilty to playing a role in the alleged plot and is expected to be sentenced next week.
But a spokesperson for the Australian Attorney-General's Office said that country’s extradition laws had built-in human rights protections.
"Extradition requests made to Australia are considered on a case-by-case basis and in accordance with the requirements of Australian law,” the spokesperson said.
"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."
Pauga is opposing the Samoan Government’s request for his extradition and is scheduled to appear before a Magistrate to contest the merits of the case against him.
Pauga has been in detention at the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre in the state of Queensland since 20 August.
In late September, his lawyers argued he has been unlawfully detained while the extradition case is considered because he had been denied the right to appear before a Magistrate immediately after he was arrested.
A lawyer for Samoa, Marc McKechnie, said the arrest and Mr Pauga’s subsequent detention was lawful and Australia had a requirement to honour extradition requests under international law.
In 2018, Pauga was charged after throwing a pig's head at Tuilaepa while the Prime Minister was visiting a church in Queensland.
The case was dismissed.