Henry Puna, Cook Islands Member of Parliament in 2017.Photo / Duncan Brown
Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown and former prime minister and lawmaker Henry Puna face charges of fraud and two counts of improper public money payments.
Norman George, prosecution adviser, said Brown and Puna conspired to arrange two charter flights funded by public funds to travel to the northern islands of Penryhn and Pukapuka.
The flight picked up the two winning candidates from the islands and returned them to Rarotonga to form a government after the June 2018 general elections.
The two current winning candidates are Deputy Prime Minister Robert Tapaitau and Deputy Minister of Justice Tingika Elikana.
These flights are paid for from the Civil Registry budget administered by Parliament.
An email from interim Finance Minister Mark Brown to the former Deputy Clerk of Parliament to regulate flights, was issued in court by private prosecutors.
George, who was conveyed, was never mentioned that he would bring another successful candidate to Rarotonga.
This case was tried by the judge and chaired by Chief Justice Sir Hugh Williams QC.
The charges were filed as a result of a personal lawsuit by Rarotonga resident Paul Allsworth alleging about $ 35,000 had been paid for the flight.
Puna and Brown pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The prosecutor has submitted a list of 19 witnesses to be summoned during the trial.
The list includes a number of current Members of Parliament including Deputy Prime Minister and Member of Parliament Penrhyn Robert Tapaitau, Member of Parliament Pukapuka Tingika Elikana, and former Member of Parliament Penrhyn Willie John.
Former lawmakers Teariki Heather and Kiriau Turepu are also expected to attend, along with Finance Secretary Garth Henderson and Acting Police Commissioner Akatauira Matapo.
Puna will be represented by attorney Ben Marshall, and attorney Tim Arnold will be represented by Brown.
The Cook Islands News reports that the case was first brought to the High Court in 2019, when private criminal proceedings were filed by attorney Norman George on behalf of the former plaintiff of the case, Teokotai George.
As with the current case, both Puna and Brown have pleaded not guilty, but a few days before the case went to trial, the complainants instructed lawyer Wilkie Rasmussen, who had taken over the case, to withdraw the complaint.
As part of the indictment, both are suspected of having violated article 280 of the 1969 Crime Law and article 64 (2) (d) (1) of the Law on the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management 1995-96.
The case is the latest in a number of trials presided over by Chief Justice Williams this month which began last week and intend to fill deposits after a year-long lull caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.