Papua New Guinea police launched an investigation into the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea James Marape after an international investigation on Wednesday exposed his potential links to Don Matheson, an Australian Businessman being investigated for corruption. The inquiry into Matheson centers around a joint report from Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that he made multiple payments to officials at the PNG Ports, the state-owned port. This was shortly before his company was awarded several high-profile government contracts to operate in Papua New Guinea.
Matheson has a career that has been marked with controversy in Australia. He was previously found guilty of misleading business partners, forcing him out of Australian business. In 2010 Matheson began moving many business ventures to Papua New Guinea. During that time, Matheson both made and received payments from individuals at PNG Ports. Most notably, he received 4.3 million dollars from the Philippines-based ports company International Container Terminal Services in 2017. In another instance, while Matheson served as chief contractor for PNG ports, the horse that he co-owned with the former head of PNG ports Fego Kiniafa, made over half a million dollars in prize money.
The release of the Pandora papers, a massive multi-national report exposing billions of dollars of hidden global finances, revealed these payments involving Matheson. Through his lawyers Matheson has denied all wrongdoing and stated the charges are “nothing short of obfuscatory.”
Marape has been a vocal critic of Matheson and the investigation surrounding any potential corruption charges. He has also denied having any contact with Matheson more than association and “a few rounds of golf” at a business event. However, reports indicate that there was a strong working relationship between the pair. Both men seem to have made introductions for each other to prominent politicians and businessmen in both Papua New Guinea and abroad. Included among the introductions is the head of the state enterprises William Duma. In 2021, Duma sent letters of recommendation advocating for Matheson to be awarded government contracts for land development in the heart of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea’s Capitals city. Duma is now in charge of carrying out the investigation into any wrongdoing by Matheson. Duma has claimed that there is no conflict of interest at play in his decision-making, despite their prior relationship. He has also stated that any media questions would only be answered if there was explicit permission given to “inquire into domestic issues of another country.”
The head of Transparency International Papua New Guinea chapter, Peter Aitsi, stated that any relationship between the three could prove to be a massive blow to public confidence and trust in the government. He also stated that if there is proof of a relationship, Duma should step down from the investigation.