Stop defaming police and accept drugs were destroyed, Police Commissioner says

Continually defaming the Tonga Police is undermining the respect and trust the police have built with the community, Police Commissioner Stephen Caldwell said this week.

Commissioner Caldwell was responding to allegations raised in Parliament on Monday about 204 kg of cocaine seized in Vava’u from the yacht JeReVe in 2012.

During debate on the annual report of the Police Minister Nobles Representative Lord Tu’ilakepa, asked what happened to the drugs found on the yacht.

Instead of defending the kingdom’s law enforcement officers, Justice Minister Vuna Fa’otusia said the question would not be answered until the Commissioner’s reports went to Parliament instead of the Privy Council.

The JereVe ran aground on a reef in the Luatafito atoll and the decomposed body of a dead European man was discovered on the yacht.

The dead man was identified as Milan Rindzak, 35, a Slovakian national.

Australian Federal Police said the yacht had sailed from Ecuador bound for Australia where the drugs would have had a street value of $116 million.

The Commissioner previously reported on his findings to the Tongan government on April 28, last year and recommended on October 3 to have the matter independently audited by the Auditor General and the Ombudsman.

Commissioner Caldwell said the drugs were properly receipted and analysed at an Australian drug laboratory, following a request from Tonga Police for Australian Federal Police assistance.

Commissioner Caldwell said the illicit drugs seized were destroyed by the appropriate authorities in Australia on March 6, 2013 after confirming it was cocaine.

“No prosecution was initiated in relation to this seizure because no person was found to be in possession of the illicit drugs and investigations did not identify persons responsible for transporting the illicit drugs on the yacht through Tongan waters,” Commissioner Caldwell said.

“Continually defaming Tonga Police and senior Police officers without any apparent foundation is highly detrimental to the reputation of the Tonga Police and undermines the respect and trust that we’re trying to earn with our service to the Community.

“The unfounded comments attack the reputation of all the good police officers who come to work every day to do their best, and are faced with dangerous situations and life’s tragedies that no one else has to deal with.”

Commissioner Caldwell said that like any other organisation in the kingdom, the Tonga, police force was not free from corruption, misconduct or criminal activities by its personnel.

However, there was zero tolerance for such actions in Tonga Police and Police officers would be held accountable with the full force of the law.

“If members of the public have specific allegations, I would encourage them to bring it to my personal attention, Commissioner Caldwell said.

“I take matters of integrity and honesty very seriously.”

Uunder the Tonga Police Act, the Police Board, through recommendations from the Police Executive Committee, had terminated the employment of twelve (12) Police Officers in the past five years in relation to serious misconduct or loss of confidence in their performance.

Five officers had been convicted in the Supreme Court for serious criminal offences in the past five years.

There are 14 criminal investigations underway against Police officers conducted by the Tonga Police Professional Standards Unit, at the direction of the Commissioner.

There were also 28 disciplinary investigations underway at the direction of the Commissioner.