Vanuatu's acting leader pardons himself from bribery charges: reports

Vanuatu's acting leader pardons himself from bribery charges: reports
Members of a tribe from Vanuatu island arrive for the screening of the movie "Tanna" presented during the Film Critics Week at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival on September 8, 2015 at Venice Lido.
PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY - Vanuatu's President Baldwin Lonsdale said he was "deeply sorry" and vowed to clean up the government after the country's acting leader pardoned himself and 13 other parliamentarians on bribery convictions, media reports said.

Parliamentary speaker Marcellino Pipite reportedly issued the pardon as acting president on Sunday, while Lonsdale was overseas in Samoa, after the 14 were convicted for bribery by the Supreme Court on Friday.

Pipite said he had done it out of the national interest rather than for personal benefit, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

"I decide to make such orders to maintain the peace, unity in this country," he said.

Lonsdale, who was reportedly visibly shaken when he addressed the nation on Monday after he returned on Sunday, said "no one is above the law" and called Pipite's actions unlawful.

"There exists a backyard... which needs to be cleaned," Lonsdale said, Vanuatu's Daily Post reported.

"I am considering my options as to how to clean up the mess after consulting with state law office.

"Vanuatu's credibility has been tarnished throughout the world, and as head of state, I am deeply sorry to see this because national leaders have contributed significantly to it."

The Supreme Court said payments of 35 million vat (US$312,000) in total had been made by Deputy Prime Minister Moana Carcasses to other MPs last year while they were all in opposition, the ABC reported.

The Pacific archipelago is still recovering from a deadly category five storm in March that destroyed homes and crops and contaminated water supplies.

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