Attorney-General John Muria Jr. today clarified that the PNG doctor, Dr. Maine Asapo, and his partner were acquitted in the court but they still commit an offence for entering Solomon Islands illegally and were dealt with administratively under the State of Public Emergency Regulation.
Dr. Asapo came to fame after he was accused as the index case of the current COVID-19 outbreak here. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare blamed Dr. Asapo as the person who imported COVID-19 from nearby Papua New Guinea into the Otong Java after he crossed illegally from the PNG side of border into Pelau. But Sogavare back-down from his claim after he admitted that Dr. Asapo was not the index case as the virus had already entered the community before he arrived in OJ.
However, despite that Sogavare insisted that Dr. Asapo would still face the law for illegally entering the Solomon Islands.
Following media reports accusing Sogavare for interfering with the justice system and that Dr. Asapo was acquitted, Muria took time during a talk-back show on radio today to explain the case from the Government’s standpoint
He explained that Dr Asapo and wife were charged under the Emergency Regulations.
“We have two options under the regulation in terms of charging those that breach it, first one is to have them charged and go through the criminal proceedings in courts. The second is the Prime Minister has an option to go into administrative penalties,” Muria said.
He added in this regard, a charge was laid against them (doctor and his wife)— then the Prime Minister in exercising the powers opted to pursue administrative proceedings under State of Public Emergency.
“So in doing that, he gave instructions to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) to go to the court and withdraw charges accordingly because the two cannot run simultaneously. So when the DPP applied to withdraw the case (from court proceedings) under section 190 (2) of the CPC criminal procedure code—which says in withdrawing the charges, the court must acquit the accused.
“Because of that section, yes, the doctor and his partner were acquitted but that does not mean they did not face the penalties or charges under the regulation. It just gave way for the Prime Minister to proceed with the offence administratively. In doing so they were fined,” the AG stated.
Muria said the doctor and his wife have consented to the administratively penalties.
“Once they had paid their fines they could leave the country,” he said.
He reiterated: “The acquittal does not mean that they didn’t commit an offence. Yes, they did commit an offence. The offence is entering Solomon Islands illegally but it was dealt with administratively using the emergency powers of the the regulations.”