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Tonga Police minister pays off TOP$120,000 court debts as he faces new party supporting his rival

Tongan Police Minister Māteni Tapueluelu has paid off TOP$120,000 (US$54,590) court debts, clearing the way for him to stand in next month’s snap election.

Legal counsellor and former Minister of Police William Clive Edwards Snr confirmed this to Nepituno news website.

Tapueluelu’s debts stemmed from fines imposed on him and Kele’a Tonga newspaper by Tongan courts in various civil cases which arose when Tapueluelu was editor.

He owed the money to Edwards Snr as well as eight other former government ministers who had sued the former editor and Member of Parliament for defamation and libel.

The plaintiffs included former Prime Minister Lord Tu’ivakanō, former Deputy Prime Minister Sāmiu Vaipulu, former Minister of Education Dr. ‘Ana Taufe’ulungaki, former Minister of Police Dr. Viliami Uasike Lātū, former Minister of MAFF Sione Sangster Saulala and MP Fe’ao Vakatā.

The lawsuits stemmed from stories which included reports of claims about the transfer of Chinese money to Princess Pilolevu’s Tongasat company.

As Kaniva News reported in 2013, the magistrate’s court ruled on June 12 that year after the plaintiffs filed civil lawsuit over a letter to the editor. The letter accused the government of corruption and misuse of public funds, but the court rules there was no basis to the claims and that they were defamatory.

Tapueluelu’s wife Lautala has used Facebook to deny allegations that a Chinese sponsor had helped pay off the debts.

She said she was concerned at how people were quick to speculate after it was announced that the debts had been cleared.

Lautala said they agreed with Edwards the debts had to be paid by instalment.

She said her husband’s fines were paid with their own money and she was the one who went to Edwards office recently and settled the fines.

The Electoral Act section 9(4) requires potential candidates to submit their nomination forms together with written clearance from the Supreme Court that they have no record of an outstanding order under clause 65 of the Constitution.

Tapueluelu will stand against his former political rival ‘Isileli Pulu who is supported by the newly established Langafonua ‘a e Masiva party.

The party comprises former and current MPs, including Minster of Finance Dr.Aisake Eke, former Minister of Police and lawyer Siosifa Tu’utafaiva, former government minister and MP Sangstar Saulala and former Minister of Finance Sunia Fili.

The founder of the Langafonua Tu’uloa party, New Zealand-Tongan based lawyer Sione Fonua, became a member of the Langafonua ‘a e Masiva Party.

According to a final electoral roll published on September 15 there were 57,391 Tongan voters registered.

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