CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Former Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said police charged him on Monday with providing false evidence in an inquiry into a multi-million-dollar government loss on an investment deal.
O’Neill, who remains a lawmaker in the Pacific island nation’s parliament, denied the charges, which stem from when he was the government’s leader in 2014.
O’Neill’s government obtained a 1.3 billion Australian dollar ($878 million) loan through the Swiss-based investment bank UBS to buy a 10.1% stake in the Australian stock exchange-listed energy exploration company Oil Search Ltd.
The government eventually sold its stake at a loss and an inquiry into the deal this year recommended charges against O’Neill for providing false testimony. The charge carries a potential prison sentence of 14 years.
O’Neill, who was replaced by the current Prime Minister James Marape in 2019, said he faced three charges of giving false evidence to the UBS Commission of Inquiry.
“As far as I know … I did not mislead the Commission of Inquiry. But we will test this in court,” O’Neill told reporters in the capital, Port Moresby.
“This is all part of the game that they are playing to try and intimidate me and harass me,” O’Neill added, referring to his political opponents.
Marape, who was finance minister in O’Neill’s government when the shares were bought, said the losses exceeded AU$340 million ($230 million).
Papua New Guinea police did not immediately confirm on Monday that charges had been filed, saying a statement was being prepared.
But Police Commissioner David Manning said in a statement over the weekend that investigators wanted to see O’Neill on Monday.
“Based on investigations into the UBS Commission of Inquiry report, we are satisfied that Mr. Peter O’Neill gave false evidence whilst under oath,” Manning said.
Rod Mcguirk, The Associated Press