VNPF GM acquitted on count of Improper Influence
The General Manager (GM) of the Vanuatu National Provident Fund (VNPF), Parmod Achary, has been acquitted of one count of Improper Influence, contrary to section 48 of the Ombudsman Act [CAP 252].
Two charges – Improper Influence and Preservation of Secrecy – had been laid against him, under section 28 (2) and 48 of the Ombudsman Act [CAP 252] in the criminal case dating back to 2019.
The allegations were, the GM had advised line managers of VNPF in a meeting not to assist the Ombudsman Office, pursuant to a search warrant issued by the Magistrate Court and disclosing a copy of the search warrant to a journalist from the Daily Post, Dan Sean McGarry.
At the conclusion of the prosecution case, the GM, through his counsel, applied for a no case to answer.
According to the oral ruling, the Criminal Procedure Code [CAP 136] recognises in section 164 (1) that such an application may be made.
Section 164 states: “If, when the case for the provision has been concluded, the judge rules, as a matter of law that there is no evidence on which the accused person could be convicted, he shall thereupon pronounce a verdict of not guilty.”
The counsel for GM Achary, Daniel Yawha submitted that the GM has no case to answer on the basis that, as a matter of law there is no evidence on which if believed the accused could be convicted.
Previous cases were used to support the argument.
In response to the application for no case to answer, the Public Prosecutor submitted evidences of the GM influencing line managers not to provide further information to Ombudsman officers. It was argued that his action indirectly affected the Ombudsman’s investigation and also resulting to all witnesses of prosecution losing their jobs with VNPF.
In her ruling, Acting Chief Magistrate Anna Laloyer, said: “Prosecution could not secure a conviction on that count alone.
“The Court is of the view that the defendant was the VNPF GM and the meeting of August 27 is fundamental to take place after the search warrant was executed on. The Defendant was frustrated but it is reasonable.
“A copy of the search warrant was on social media. It was reasonable for the GM to protect the integrity of the VNPF at that time and the private phone collected was to monitor the social media.
“The Ombudsman’s investigating officer had on his own initiative decided not to collect further information from VNPF staff. As stated earlier, the test for prosecution in establishing a crime is at its highest standard and less standard of evidence would surely end in a no case to answer as stated.
“Having said this, the Court grants the Defendant’s application for a no case to answer, in respect to one count of improper influence, contrary to section 48 of the Ombudsman Act. The Defendant is hereby acquitted accordingly.”
In regards to the charge of Preservation of Secrecy, the Court dismissed the application for no case to answer.
After considering Mr. McGarry’s evidences and the submission of defence and prosecution, the Court was satisfied that the Prosecution evidence could secure a conviction on one count of Preservation of Secrecy.
According to the oral ruling, evidence from the Prosecution established a copy of the search warrant issued on Daily Post after an interview between Mr. McGarry and the Defendant while the Ombudsman’s investigation was still ongoing.
It was argued that GM Achary exposed the search warrant, despite being informed during the search not to disclose information about it.