Australian lawyers pull out of Yama case after threats to staff

From THE AUSTRALIAN

AN Australian law firm has withdrawn from representing Papua New Guinea’s largest financial institution after its staff were threatened by armed thugs in Port Moresby.

Gadens Lawyers had been representing Bank South Pacific in a court action where the bank was attempting to recover money from a company owned by former MP Peter Yama.

This month, two Australians who worked for the bank were arrested after Mr Yama accused them of attempting to defeat the course of justice — charges the bank believes are ridiculous.

Yesterday, Gadens’ Port Moresby office senior partner Winifred Kamit said the firm last week withdrew its representation of BSP following two threats against two of its lawyers.

In late December, five shots were fired at about 3am into the property of one of the lawyers by an unknown person, and on January 6 the other one was threatened by gun-toting thugs in front of his Port Moresby home.

Ms Kamit said in the most recent incident, the young male lawyer was being dropped off at home when five men drove up in a car with tinted windows. “The thugs got out of the car and said `That’s him, he was the one who was in the court’.” She said they then “put the gun to his head and said to him in pidgin, `What do you think you are going to achieve?’ “.

Ms Kamit said the thugs had not mentioned any specific case, but the lawyers had recently been involved in the BSP case.

Mr Yama made accusations of fraudulent behaviour against BSP executives after the bank moved to secure 7.6 million kina ($3m), which Mr Yama’s company won in a legal battle against another company. The bank took the action to collect a debt allegedly owed to it by Mr Yama’s company.

Following Mr Yama’s accusations, two Australian executives with BSP, Robin Fleming and John Maddison, were arrested. A third Australian is also believed to be facing charges.

Yesterday, Mr Yama, a former police officer, said BSP had allegedly tried to defraud him because of a vendetta.

“I was the main man against the sale of the bank in 2001, I called an inquiry against the bank,” he claimed. “The law is on my side, I will beat them. I win every case. I owe BSP nothing, I told the court, I owe them nothing.”

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