Law firms file K27.1m claims

Main Stories, National

The National, Thursday 6th June 2013

 TWO law firms associated with two senior 

go­vernment ministers have lodged legal bills totalling K27.1 million with the Finance Department, records show.

And there may be one more.

The records indicate that the bills are for Supreme Court references and other proceedings taken during the 2011 political impasse when East Sepik Governor, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, was prime minister. 

Steeles Lawyers where Foreign Affairs Minister Rimbink Pato was a principal partner before his entry into politics, lodged a legal bill claim for K12.5 million and was paid K3 million on March 18. 

Posman Kua Aisi Lawyers, where Attorney-Ge­neral and Justice Minister Kerenga Kua was a se­nior partner and the lead lawyer for the Somare camp during the political impasse period, lodged a bill for K14.6 million.

A part-payment of K5 million was paid on March 7.

According to financial transaction records obtained by The National, a third law firm called Thomas & Co Lawyers, lodged a bill for K10.2 million and was paid K5 million on March 7.

The claims were for three Supreme Court cases during the impasse between Aug 11, 2011 and February last year.

Two other law firms, Twivey Lawyers and Young & Williams each sent invoices for K2 million for services rendered during the seven-month period. 

Only PosmanKuaAisi Lawyers responded to this paper’s queries. It said in a statement yesterday that Kua was no longer a partner or owner of the law firm (see separate story).

“Mr Kua resigned as an equity partner or part-owner of the firm in June 2010.

“He has no interest whatsoever as a partner or owner of the firm,” the statement said.

“PosmanKuaAisi is a business name owned by the current partners of the firm and has nothing to do with the current attorney-general and minister for justice.”

The law firm said it was instructed by the then prime minister, Sir Michael, at the time of the constitutional crisis created by the actions of Parliament on Aug 2, 2011, to act for him in Supreme Court reference No.3 of 2011.

In December 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the actions of Parliament were illegal and unconstitutional and restored Sir Michael as prime minister.

Following that, more events unfolded on the floor of Parliament and further court proceedings were filed in Supreme Court references 1 and 2 of 2012.

The firm was again engaged to act for the then attorney-general, Sir Arnold Amet, and the State.

It could not be ascertained whether or not the payments were vetted by the solicitor-general and the attorney-general which is the usual process.

Legal bills have been the subject of heated debate in the Parliament with Opposition leader Belden Namah raising the matter of payment of bills to Paul Paraka Lawyers. 

This earned him (Namah) a referral to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee and Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced an investigation into payment of bills by Finance Department.

Finance Minister James Marape, who was attending to an elections petition case in Tari, Southern Highlands, said yesterday that he would issue a formal statement on the matter today.

Marape was said to have instructed the Finance Department to provide all relevant documentation in respect of these payments for him to respond to these claims.

No comments could be obtained from the other law firms and the government ministers, although some did indicate they would send their responses before press time.