No justice for Moruk and Freitas?

September 05, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Caption: Angela Freitas during the lead up to the 2012 Presidential campaign


By Ted McDonnell

Just over a week ago, East Timor's President Taur Matan Ruak freed former justice minister and convicted criminal Lucia Lobato less than two years into her five year sentence for corruption; a week later one-time presidential hopeful Angela Freitas and former commander Mauk Moruk have fronted the nation's prosecutor still wondering what charges they will face when they go to trial in the coming months.

The decision by TMR has left justice advocates and many in East Timor bewildered. It is rumoured TMR was pressured to release Lobato. Yet the case involving Freitas and Moruk, justice advocates say, borders on the farcical.

Supporters of Freitas and Moruk believe initial charges of 'wearing military uniforms', and in Freitas cause, 'gun running' despite the absence of evidence, have been trumped up by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

The 'fight' between Moruk and Gusmao is almost East Timor folklore. The outspoken Moruk, one of East Timor's most feared commanders has been a harsh critic of Gusmao believing his former comrade has betrayed his people through bad government, financial mismanagement and turning a blind eye to systemic corruption in his government.

The bad blood between the Gusmao and Moruk harks back to "incidents" in the 1980s involving other commanders. Neither Moruk nor Gusmao are willing to talk publicly about the "incidents". 

This blog can be reveal for the first time that a number of East Timor commanders mysteriously went 'missing' in the East Timorese jungles during the 1980s. 

For many years, it was not known what happened to the FALINTIL commanders and whether they were killed fighting the Indonesians occupation forces or murdered "persons unknown”. 

However, we can now reveal that they disappeared during a bloody power struggle with fellow commanders.

Interviews with a number of veterans have revealed that by prominent commander ordered the murder of ‘dissenting’ fellow commanders.

People close to President TMR, PM Gusmao and Moruk say the jailing of Moruk for months without charge has more to do with shutting up the outspoken former commander than their public spat over 'political ideologies'.

A number of attempts to interview the  incarcerated Moruk, the  Prime Minister or for that matter the President, who was also a fellow commander of both Gusmao and Moruk, on these intriguing matters have failed. Both Gusmao and TMR have repeated refused interviews.

As for the gun running charges against one-time presidential hopeful Angela Freitas, many believe the charges are also 'trumped up' by East Timor's political elite to silence Freitas, who is also a long time critic of the two term government of Gusmao.

Several months ago, Freitas was arrested at Dili Airport after returning from overseas following an operation. It has been alleged she imported container loads of guns for a supposed 'revolution' against the government. Interestingly, no guns have ever been found despite by Police.

Freitas, a dual East Timor and Australian citizen, has little doubt the "false allegations and charges" against her have been raised by East Timor's political elite and led by the Prime Minister keen on shutting up dissidents.

"They accused me of abuse of power and gun running. They claim I wore a military uniform but at the time of the accusation I was in hospital in Indonesia," she added.

"They also claim I brought into East Timor two container loads of guns. They searched my house, they search everywhere and found nothing. Where are the two containers of guns?

"There are no guns.”

Legal insiders believe the government has arranged for "hundreds" of witnesses to come forward from the districts to speak out against both Freitas and Moruk.

Both Freitas and Moruk await formal charges by East Timor's Prosecutor General. For six months Moruk has languished in Becora prison without charge.

Human rights experts are appalled at the detention of Moruk without charge.

Later this year, Finance Minister Emilia Pires, a close confidante of Prime Minister Gusmao, will face the courts along with former Vice Health Minster Ms Madalene Hanjam on charges of corruption over a contract awarded to Ms Pires' husband's Melbourne business. Both maintain their innocence.

Prime Minister Gusmao, who recently confirmed he will stay on as PM until at least 2017, continues to fully support Ms Pires, who he personally appointed as Finance Minister, against corruption allegations stating his close ally is innocent of any charges.

Recent decisions, like the one involving the President and the former justice Minister; the proposed media laws to silence freedom of speech; and the Prime Minister’s continued verbal attacks on the Corruption Commission has left people wondering whether East Timor is fast becoming an autocracy.

East Timor's media law unconstitutional - Court

August 19, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

East_Timor_mcdonnell_01AEast_Timor_mcdonnell_01AInvestigative journalist Jose Belo continues his fight against corruption and the Timor Leste government's new media laws.

Caption: Jose Belo

By Ted McDonnell

EAST Timor’s controversial media law has been declared unconstitutional by the country’s Court of Appeal.

The fledgling nation’s President Taur Matan Ruak refused to promulgate the restrictive laws last month and sent the media bill to the Court of Appeal questioning whether they were unconstitutional.

The Court of Appeal yesterday found that a number of articles within the media law were contrary to East Timor’s Constitution. The law will now return to the National Parliament to be revised or abandoned.

East Timor’s leading investigative journalist Jose Belo applauded the Courts decision.

"The Courts today have upheld our constitution, which we fought so hard for. This is a  victory for the East Timorese people," an elated Belo said today. "The government is trying to stop freedom of the media and freedom of expression."

Belo said that the decision by the Court of Appeal is no surprise.

“From day one we said the media laws were unconstitutional. It would now seem our politicians need help from the lawmakers to understand what the constitution means,” he added. 

"It will now go back to the National Parliament, so we have won the battle but we are still to win the war."

Belo has no doubt the media law was created to restrict local and foreign journalist reporting on East Timor’s plague of corruption, nepotism and financial mismanagement. The law would also restrict who could be called a journalist in East Timor and potentially prevent foreign journalists reporting within East Timor.

East Timor, an island 600 kilometres of the northern tip of Australia, gained its freedom from 24 years of Indonesian rule in 1999 and its full independence in 2002. The country suffers from high unemployment, poverty and malnutrition.

One leading East Timor lawyer said the President could still promulgate the law, if the necessary changes were made by the Parliament.

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who has been a key promoter of the media bill, is believed to be furious that the law has not been approved by the Courts. 

Gusmao bows to party pressure not to retire

August 04, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Reprinted - The Australian Tuesday 05 August 2014


By Ted McDonnell 


EAST Timor Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has backflipped on retirement plans, declaring he will stay on and could sack up to 20 ministers in his ­coalition government.

Mr Gusmao has on numerous occasions stated he would retire two years into his second term — which would be next month. However, pressure from fellow CNRT parliamentarians at last weekend’s party conference forced him to declare yesterday that he may now see out his term until the next election, in 2017.

With many CNRT ministers fearful the party would collapse without Mr Gusmao in charge, they intensively lobbied the 68-year-old to stay on.

CNRT put two resolutions to members, one declaring the Prime Minister would stay for the foreseeable future and the second giving him a mandate to “remodel” the government, allowing him to replace up to 20 cabinet ministers. Both resolutions were passed late on Sunday.

“It is at the Prime Minister’s discretion to carry out both resolutions. Mr Gusmao will decide the time required for political transition and power to the next generation,” one senior coalition member told The Australian yesterday.

“Xanana is the boss. He has total authority in this country and now he is changing things on a day-to-day basis. Who knows what he will do tomorrow? He may well quit again.”

Observers said sacking up to 20 of the 55 ministers would create significant tension within the coalition government made up of CNRT, PD (Democratic Party) and Frente Mudansa. It was unclear which ministers face the axe, with the future of Finance Minister Emilia Pires hanging in the balance. Yesterday in Dili, Mr Gusmao presented 2014 budget executions alongside Ms Pires.

Last week, Ms Pires, one of Mr Gusmao’s closest allies, was indicted for alleged abuse of power and corruption by East Timor’s Prosecutor-General.

Former vice-minister for health Madalena Hanjam was also indicted for similar offences over a contract awarded to Ms Pires’s husband’s Melbourne-based business for the supply of hospital beds. Ms Pires and Ms Hanjam say the contract was awarded legally.


© Ted McDonnell © The Australian 2014

Graft case rocks East Timor’s Prime Minister ­Xanana Gusmao

August 01, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

The Australian

By Ted McDonnell

East_Timor_mcdonnell_01FEast_Timor_mcdonnell_01FChook fighting is the national sport in Timor Leste.

Caption: Political fighting like chook fighting in Timor Leste is ever present. © Ted McDonnell

EAST  Timor’s two-year-old ­coalition government is in crisis with speculation Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao could resign this weekend following the indictment of the country’s Finance Minister Emilia Pires for alleged abuse of power and corruption.

Sources close to Mr Gusmao told The Australian that he cleaned out his office yesterday and is expected to announce his decision to step down at his CNRT Party’s congress today or tomorrow. He had been expected to quit next month, half-way through his term.

Mr Gusmao’s support has collapsed in recent years after repeated scandals and allegations of corruption and nepotism against his senior ministers.

But the final blow for many came yesterday when Ms Pires, along with former vice-minister for health Madalene Hanjam, was accused by the Prosecutor General under East Timor’s Code of Criminal Procedure of abuse of power and corruption. Ms Hanjam was a member of Mr Gusmao’s first-term government.

MPs in East Timor have ­“immunity from prosecution” which must be removed by parliament before the courts can proceed with a trial. The two will appear in the Dili District Court at a date to be announced.

As reported in The Australian last month, Ms Pires has been under investigation by the Prosecutor-General and Anti-Corruption Commission (KAK) for awarding her husband Warren Macleod’s Melbourne-based business Mac’s Metalcraft the $2.04 million contract to supply beds to Guido Valadares National Hospital. She has consistently ­denied she was involved in the deal, but she signed off on the contract on behalf of Mr Gusmao.

Ms Pires’s husband told The Weekend Australian his wife ­“absolutely” denied any wrongdoing. “I never dealt with the Ministry of Finance. I have only ever dealt with the Ministry of Health,” Mr Macleod said.

Last month, President Taur Matan Ruak called on Mr Gusmao to sack Ms Pires. But Mr Gusmao has ignored the demand and consistently defended his minister, whom he personally ­appointed to the post. Ms Pires was not an elected minister.

Referring to the allegations, Mr Gusmao has told the East Timorese people that Ms Pires’s husband “did not need contracts with the government’’.

He recently ­attacked the anti-corruption commission, saying : “I warn KAK, you prepare for that. You are just looking for cigarette money.”

Both Ms Pires and Mr Gusmao have been under fire for mismanagement of East Timor’s finances, a situation that could result in the country’s $15 billion Petroleum Fund being empty within a ­decade.

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