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Drug Charges Against Tongan Noble May Be Withdrawn
Tu’ilakepa still charged with illegally possessing firearms, ammo

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Jan. 30, 2013) – The Crown is expected to formally withdraw two of the illicit drug charges against Lord Tu'ilakepa due to insufficient evidence – two years after the Tongan noble was first charged in December 2010.

Tu'ilakepa still faces a remaining four counts of unlawful possession of arms and ammunition.

Senior Crown Counsel Sione Sisifa, in a chamber meeting before Chief Justice Hon. Michael Scott and defense counsel Mana Kaufusi, this morning confirmed the Crown's intention to withdraw the drug charges, "due to insufficient evidence."

He said that a formal submission for withdrawal of the drugs charges would be made on February 22 at the Supreme Court.

The Crown will continue to prosecute the defendant on the arms and ammunitions charges, at the Nuku'alofa Magistrate's Court.

Appeal

The chamber held was in relation to an appeal by the defendant to the Supreme Court against a ruling by a Magistrate in November last year, for the Preliminary Inquiry on the arms and ammunitions charges be held separately from the drug charges.

The Crown had requested then to hold separate inquiries for the arms and ammunitions charges because they were not factually related to the drug charges and either charges could be heard separately. Secondly, the Attorney General has the authority and discretion to initiate, discontinue or stay a prosecution.

The Magistrate fixed a date for the arms and ammunitions inquiry to be held on November 27, 2012 and for the drug charges to be deferred until the Crown was ready to proceed.

The defendant then lodged an appeal against this ruling to the Supreme Court, on the basis of double jeopardy.

Operation

Lord Tu'ilakepa was initially charged with six counts that included two for possession of illegal arms, two for possession of illegal ammunitions and one each for possession of an illicit drug, along with conspiracy to the importation of an illicit drug.

This was after a transnational police investigation into illicit drugs was conducted in Tonga and Australia, in December 2010. Police are understood to have searched the noble's homes in Tongatapu and in Vava'u.

The defendant is a former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga and currently a Vava'u Noble's Representative sitting in the Tonga Legislative Assembly.

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