Ousted cabinet minister ‘Etuate Lavulavu has said that an incriminating audio recording of him was doctored, as critics increased pressure on him to stand aside after allegations he was the “engineer” of the Tu’i’onetoa government.
Lavulavu denied allegations that there was an agreement to reward him for the advice he gave the coalition parties before they won the premiership election and formed the new government.
He said there was a plot to record the telephone conversation to discredit him.
He said the audio was edited and parts of it were removed leaving the rest with only information that appeared to incriminate him.
He threatened to sue Television Tonga, its station manager Sētita Tu’i’onetoa along with its two reporters Salamo Fulivai and Vilisoni Tu’iniua. He also said he would to sue MP Saia Piukala and the person who he claimed secretly recorded the audio, ‘Atunaisa Fetokai of the Ministry of Land and Survey. He claimed these people doctored the recorded audio before releasing it online.
Lavulavu said he did not authorise Fetokai to record their telephone conversation or released it to the public.
He said he was seeking advice from Fetokai and there was no agreed deal to pay anybody back in return for his part in setting up the new government.
He said the coalition parties asked him to help them in their endeavor to win the premiership election and form the new government. He said he advised them what to do to win and fhey followed his advice.
Public concern has centred on Lavulavu‘s criminal record and the fact that his wife, who is also under investigation, is the Minister of Infrastructure and Tourism.
The Supreme Court convicted Lavulavu in 2016 of bribery and spending over the legal limit on his 2014 election campaign.
He and his wife are waiting another court case in which they are charged with knowingly dealing with forged documents and obtaining credit by false pretenses, after irregularities in an audit of the ‘Unuaki ‘o Tonga Royal Institute in 2016.
But Lavulavu has assured the public that he did not interfere with ‘Akosita’a’s government duties. He said ‘Akosita was well educated and she was qualified with a Bachelor of Computer Science and MBA. She is currently a part time law student at USP in Tonga.
As Kaniva news reported earlier this week, the Tu’i’onetoa government had faced serious public criticism after the release of the audio recording that appears to show horse-trading for a deal in exchange for persuading members of Parliament to defect or join the coalition government.
Lavulavu can be heard telling a government officer that he wanted Lord Ma’afu to help him in his attempt to lease the land in which he and his family currently living to be approved.
There is no evidence that Lord Ma’afu was aware of the conversation.
Lavulavu said a previous application had been declined.
Lavulavu also asked for help in resolving an issue with a group of Chinese who leased land from him in Tofoa.
The officer said he could arrange this.
Lavulavur then said they would form the new government and that he wanted the newly appointed cabinet ministers to return to parliament in 2021.
He said he deliberately planned in the weeks before the premiership election to cause chaos during a PTOA (Democrat) party meeting to make them disunited and disorganized so that it would make setting up of the new party and government successful.
He also said he stopped his wife ‘Akosita from attending a Democrat Party meeting in weeks before the premiership election, after the they got a message reminding them of the meeting.
Five MPs from the Democrats eventually defected and joined the new party. They were all appointed cabinet ministers on Thursday.
The main points
- Ousted cabinet minister ‘Etuate Lavulavu has said that an incriminating audio recording of him was doctored, as critics increased pressure on him to stand aside after allegations he was the “engineer” of the Tu’i’onetoa government.
- Lavulavu denied allegations that there was an agreement to reward him for the advice he gave the coalition parties before they won the premiership election and formed the new government.
For more information
Public outrage after audio recording appears to show demand for land deal sweetener in return for supporting new coalition’s quest for power