Nobles sue Tonga sports Council head for defamation over article on Games funding

Two of Tonga’s most senior Nobles will return to court on December 3 for the  next stage of a case for defamation brought against the Chairman of the Tonga Sports Council, ‘Ikani Taliai.

(L-R) Lord Sevele, Lord Tupou and ‘Ikani Taliai

Lord Tupou and Lord Sevele are suing Taliai in the Nuku’alofa Magistrate’s Court over allegations of that they misused TP$400 million in sports funding.

The first court hearing was held on Thursday, November 19.

Veteran Tongan journalist Kalafi Moala reported that the Nobles claimed they were defamed in an article Taliai wrote and posted on Facebook. The article has been widely copied.

The article centres on the controversy surrounding TASANOC and the decision to cancel the Pacific Games.

Lord Sevele and Lord Tupou had both been President and Vice President of TASANOC at various times.

The then Prime Minister, ‘Akilisi Pohiva, wanted TASANOC dissolved and replaced by the Tonga Sports Council.

A contract to host the 2019 Pacific Games was signed in October 2012 by the then Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano, the Pacific Games Council and the Tonga Pacific Games Association.

Hon. Pohiva cancelled the games, claiming Tonga could not afford them. This contradicted previous government statements that constructing of Games venues and facilities would boost the economy.

The Pacific Games Council sued the Pohiva  Government for breach of contract. TASANOC also launched legal proceedings for the recovery of money spent on preparing for the Games.

The legal action is  based on a contention that that the government was contractually obliged to provide the Pacific Game Organizing Committee (PGOC) funding for organizing and holding the Games, which had been estimated at TP$400 million.

A further claim was made that the PGOC should have been incorporated as a company so that the putative TP$400 million would have been vested in the company rather than its membership.

However, by  being incorporated as a charitable trust, the hypothetical TP$400 million in costs for funding the Pacific Games was vested in a Board.

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