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Tongan Police Officers Accused Of Misreporting Convictions
33 convictions ‘cleared’ from records part of ‘unwritten policy’

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Feb. 14, 2013) –Two very high-ranking Tongan police officers are under an investigation into allegations that 33 convictions of Tongan citizens were ordered to be "wiped" from police records over several years, under an unwritten policy that was tacitly approved by a former and now deceased Minister of Police.

"Between 2005-08 we know of 33 incidents where Tongan citizens have obtained these so-called clearances," Tonga's Police Commissioner Grant O'Fee said this afternoon.

"These are to people who have got criminal convictions, who because of the clearance, as it's called, are able to obtain letters that say they have no convictions.

"If clearances were used for job or visa applications, I don't know yet, but we may find out," he said. "We've been talking with New Zealand immigration".

Serious criminal offenders

Police Commissioner O'Fee said that the court records of the offenders remained as they were.

"The police records, where people come for that information, are also still there, but they just had a notation on them that the conviction had been wiped or 'cleared.'"

He had no information to suggest that any payments were involved.

"The seriousness of offending cleared is one factor that concerns me. So I will just move slowly on it."

Deceased Minister of Police

He said the practice was put in place by an unwritten policy approved by the Minister of Police at the time, who had since passed away.

"This was a common process where people approached the police for their letter from the police record. Senior police officers had given their authorizations and the subsequent letter was written by someone at the lower level. That is how the system worked, there was no suggestion of forgery as the officers signed them with their own signatures and there were no efforts to cover up what they had done."

He said the practice was banned by his predecessor, Police Commissioner Chris Kelley and there was no indication that it had been reinstated since then.

"I have since reiterated that that is no longer the Tonga Police policy and we do not do that."

Independent investigation

Commissioner O'Fee said that after it was brought to his attention by an individual late last year, he was trying to establish how widespread the practice was under the former Minister, and that he would also look at the culpability, if any, of police members who signed off these clearances.

He had enlisted the help of the Solicitor General who was carrying out his own inquiry to get independence.

"Because they are high ranking officers and it's difficult to investigate them credibly within the police, that's one of the reasons why we have asked Solicitor General to help us.

"It would appear to be no offending by the individuals who applied for these so-called clearances. The activities of officers concerned will be looked at in relation to the Police Act and any possible disciplinary breaches," he said.

Commissioner O'Fee said he also had to take into account the era in which it was done and the practice in existence at that time.

"I am aware that it's become common knowledge that this investigation is underway and… virtually an open secret. There is little point in not letting the public know exactly what is happening since most people seemed to know anyway," he said.

Inquiry

Meanwhile, the Solicitor General 'Aminiasi Kefu said today the police officers had been interviewed and the inquiry was ongoing. He hoped to conclude it soon and would report and make recommendations to the Police Commissioner.

The Attorney General's office was requested to conduct inquiries as an independent body from Tonga Police, and also look at the legal aspects of this practice, he said.

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