For nearly two decades, senior journalists who covered the work of foreign cartels in Papua New Guinea have continually warned successive governments of the impending threat of organized crime.
It is no longer, just a threat anymore.
In 2003, a father of three, came to the EMTV office in Port Moresby. His face covered in blood from a cut on his head. Earlier, he had an altercation with a Chinese shop owner in Gerehu after finding that his primary school aged child had become addicted to playing ‘horse race’ gambling machines.
The machines were made of wood and the electronic parts brought in from China. The businesses who made them had warehouses in Hohola, Gerehu and several other locations around Port Moresby.
They were essentially, slot gambling units that paid small amounts of money if your ‘horse’ won. The machines had no clear legal classification at the time. They could not be easily taxed under the gaming laws and they were a cross between poker machines and arcade games.
The man had found his son, at one of the shops playing the machines when he should have been in school. He confronted the Chinese shop owner and argument escalated into a fight.
This was just one of many confrontations that happened in a space of three years.
It took several public protests, intervention by churches, the Public Accounts Committee and other government agencies before the proverbial wheels of justice began turning…slowly.
The Public Accounts Committee, under Chairman and Bogia MP, John Hickey, went after the cartels, summoning every relevant government agency including the IRC.
Hickey became the target of several attacks. In once instance, in the middle of a PAC hearing, his house, in a relatively well protected area, was broken into. Police were called to the scene. He suspended the hearing temporarily and was, in the subsequent days, placed under police guard.
IRC Commissioner, David Sode, was called to give evidence.
His testimony at the PAC hearing, exposed a network of businesses dealing in counterfeit products, illegal gambling and arms smuggling. Nearly every one of them was being investigated by the IRC for tax evasion.
As the investigation continued on several fronts, the cartels were bold enough to attempt an assassination on the IRC Commissioner, David Sode, himself.
Information was leaked from within their own circles and the police and the IRC came down hard arresting a kingpin. The man, according to the evidence gathered, had five gun licenses to his name, all issued by the government of Papua New Guinea.
Within government circles, there was also a lot of frustration. Officers within the National Intelligence Organization (NIO) said they has limited success convincing police to arrest several key figures involved in human trafficking and gun smuggling despite repeated offences and evidence provided to police.
During joint raids by customs, IRC, and the police Transnational Crimes Unit, the media was shown documents which were authorizations from senior ministers and high ranking government officials.
The cartels were using government officials to authorize their operations.
Several arrests were made. The lead police officers, the NIO and transnational crime unit, faced stiff resistance when they tried to deport a group of foreign nationals during that period.
The Chinese Embassy paid for lawyers to represent them arguing that they had the right to remain in the country. The head of the NIO, Bob Nenta, who was also called to the airport eventually succeeded in ensuring that the deportation happened.
At the end of that episode, several people were deported and horserace machine operation crushed.
[I was there for every one of those events. This is all verifiable information and the officers from multiple agencies who were involved in the great work done can verify this]