Vanuatu president Baldwin LonsdaleFourteen politicians convicted of corruption could go free after the speaker of the parliament pardoned himself and the other defendants when the president was out of the country.
A court Friday convicted the speaker of the parliament, Marcellino Pipite, and 13 other MPs of taking bribes of about $10,000 each in exchange for help overthrowing the prior government.
Vanuatu is a chain of about 80 islands in the South Pacific, with around 250,000 residents.
The defendants were supposed to be sentenced on October 22. Each faced up to 10 years in prison.
After President Baldwin Lonsdale returned to Vanuatu, he apologized for the political crises.
On Monday he said: “Vanuatu’s credibility has been tarnished throughout the world, and as head of state, I am deeply sorry to see this.”
The power to grant pardons is the prerogative of the president. “When the [speaker of the parliament] wants to use it, he must consult with the president first,” Lonsdale said.
Opposition politicians are challenging the pardons. They filed complaints with the police, the Vanuatu Daily Post said. The courts could decide if the pardons are valid, the report said.
President Londsdale said “the power of pardon is like the power of mercy, and is vested in the president alone, and he must have sound reasons to use it to pardon someone.”
But Lonsdale said voters may have to amend the country’s laws to prevent the speaker from becoming acting president when the elected president is out of the country. Otherwise, Londsdale said, “we stand the risk of becoming victims of our own laws.”
In March, Cyclone Pam killed at least 11 people across Vanuatu.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.