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Papua New Guinea PM suspended for two weeks

PORT MORESBY, Mar 25 – Papua New Guinea\’s Prime Minister Michael Somare has been suspended from office for two weeks after being found guilty of 13 charges of official misconduct, his spokeswoman said Friday.

A special tribunal of three judges sitting in the capital Port Moresby earlier this week found the veteran leader guilty of submitting annual financial statements, some dating back to the 1990s, late or incomplete.

Late Thursday, two of the judges agreed to suspend Somare for 14 days, overruling the third who wanted the 74-year-old dismissed from office, Somare\’s spokeswoman and daughter Betha Somare told AFP.

"It was a three-man bench and that was his dissenting opinion," she said from Port Moresby.

"But we go by the majority so the opinion of the two other judges holds."

The prime minister will spend the two weeks on leave in his East Sepik electorate, leaving hand-picked deputy Sam Abal in charge.

In announcing the decision, tribunal chairman Roger Gyles said that there was "no serious culpability warranting dismissal," Australian news agency AAP reported.

"The prime minister is suspended from office without pay from and including April 4 for 14 days," he said.

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But dissenting judge Robin Auld said the prime minister\’s attitude towards the charges showed "a disregard bordering on disdain for his constitutional obligations".

"It would be bad enough in the case of any leader, but it is particularly reprehensible for one of his high standing and influential involvement in the initiation of the leadership code," he said.

In a statement, Somare apologised for his "administrative oversight" and said he had "full faith" in deputy Abal to run the government in his absence.

"As a leader, I take full responsibility for failing to fulfil certain administrative aspects of my duties and responsibilities of leadership by submitting several late and incomplete returns to the Ombudsman Commission," he said.

Betha Somare said the decision needed to be seen in the context of Papua New Guinea politics, in which Somare has been a central figure for four decades, and was the country\’s first prime minister after independence in 1975.

"He is not a politician like they have in Australia, or places like that," she said.

"There has to be, I guess, an understanding of Papua New Guinea. Everybody watched this very public, if you like, humiliation of him for the last couple of months and I think the majority of Papua New Guineans were very relieved at the judgment made by two of the three (judges).

"I guess there was a sense of relief throughout the country."

Somare has given little indication he will retire from politics in PNG which is on the cusp of a resources boom thanks to the development of gas deposits which is expected to double the nation\’s GDP.

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