Appeal date set for ex-Cook Islands deputy prime minister

An appeal date has been set for former Cook Islands deputy prime minister Robert Tapaitau, who was convicted of fraud-related charges earlier this year.

The appeal is challenging Tapaitau’s sentence – of two years and nine months imprisonment – handed down a month ago.

The Cook Islands News reported the appeal will be heard on 4 July.

Tapaitau and two other senior public figures were convicted of taking NZD$70,000 in public funds between April 2019 and March 2021.

He had faced three separate charges of use of a document to obtain pecuniary advantage, and one of conspiracy to defraud.

He was convicted of “all or most” offences, a ruling from Chief Justice Patrick Keane said.

Tapaitau was sentenced alongside former civil servants Ngatokorua Puna, who was jailed for five years, and Diane Charlie-Puna, who was sentenced to one year and six months in jail.

Tapaitau was first suspended from Parliament in 2022 when the charges were laid, but was reinstated by Prime Minister Mark Brown and successfully re-elected as Tongareva MP, before being suspended again during his trial in July 2023.

Tapaitau resumed his duties as deputy prime minister for the second time in November 2023.

A by-election was held in March for the vacant Penryn Island seat, which was won by Sarakura Tapaitau, the former deputy prime minister’s wife.

Albert Nicholas was named the Cook Islands’ deputy prime minister.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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