The incredible rise and fall of Sam Koim

By PNG Echo


Sam Koim - Dedicated corruption fighter or dangerous vigilante?
Sam Koim – Some say dedicated corruption fighter others think he’s a dangerous vigilante.

Sam Koim started his legal career, at the end of 2008, as an employed lawyer at the Office of the Solicitor General. He rose quickly (within three years) to national – even international – prominence.

Koim owes his meteoric rise, at least the start of it, to his friendship with Sam Basil.

Indeed it was Basil, then Minister for National Planning in the O’Neill/Namah government, who, in 2011, put in a submission to the NEC for the establishment of Task Force Sweep (TFS) with Koim at the helm.

At the time, Koim had only two years experience as a lawyer and no experience at all in criminal law: he had never prosecuted or defended a criminal charge – his experience was limited.

Sam Basil, backed Koim
Sam Basil, backed Koim

Under these circumstances it was a curious appointment by Basil who is now the deputy leader of the Parliamentary Opposition.

Koim when asked of Basil’s involvement with TFS stated:

He was involved with us when he was the Minister for National Planning overseeing the investigations. After that, I got nothing to do with him.

The track record of TFS

Paul Tienstien convicted by TFS of official corruption
Paul Tienstien convicted by TFS of official corruption

TFS, under Sam Koim has prosecuted a number of high-profile cases successfully including the conviction and incarceration of powerful politician Paul Tiensten. This notwithstanding, a legal expert has been scathingly critical of the performance of TFS:

…[TFS] track record is not good,” he said, “only about half its prosecutions have survived a committal hearing in the District Court and some of its cases that have made it to the National Court have been unnecessary failures.

Of particular note, he pointed out, is the case of the Paga Hill Development where TFS exonerated a person who had been found seven times to have engaged in corrupt conduct.

Dr Kristian Laslett
Dr Kristian Laslett

Indeed, Dr. Kristian Laslett of the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) who had filed the initial complaint to TFS against the developer of Paga Hill (in 2012) wrote to the NEC in March of this year, expressing his astonishment at the actions and the findings of the TFS. He heavily criticised their report and went on to say:

To add insult to injury, TFS granted the requested exoneration [of the developer] with the result that a person who potentially engaged in corrupt conduct is now able to rely on a letter from PNG’s anti-corruption agency which purports to exonerate him and/or his company.

Our legal expert’s summation of the TFS report states:

I think the one difficult thing for anyone perusing the ITFS report, who isn’t intimately familiar with the facts of the case, is spying the sheer scale of the report’s flaws.  Strangely enough, its not because they are subtle: its because they are so obvious that no-one could contemplate that such mistakes could be made.

He goes on:

…It does not seem that the mistakes could be made through error because they are so many and so monumental. Only someone trying to intentionally deceive an audience unfamiliar with the facts could construct such a report.”

The media

'Preying on Paradise', the ABC report into corruption in PNG
‘Preying on Paradise’, the ABC report into corruption in PNG

In spite of this assessment, Koim’s popularity continues to rise, especially in the media both in PNG and overseas.

Koim has starred in two Australian television reports on corruption, and in spite of rhetoric about the dangers of the job, allowed cameras to film him extensively and to take and broadcast footage of his children.

A colleague of Koim opined:

The hunger of Australian media for stories about corruption in PNG and Koim’s ego was, unfortunately a good fit. Reputations of people in PNG were damaged for the sole purpose of promoting Koim as a superhero.

And a superhero and darling of the social media he surely is – but only since he decided to attempt an arrest on the Prime Minister. Before that Koim was the opposite – the bête noire.

Jimmy Maladina convicted but released on a bond
Jimmy Maladina convicted but released on a bond

The PNG public is fickle, as no doubt Deputy Chief Justice Salika has found out (if he didn’t know already). He was the peoples’ hero for finding Jimmy Maladina guilty in the NPF case only to become an object of derision for giving him a bond: from a rooster to a feather-duster in a few short weeks.

Dangerously, the hero worship Koim receives results in in the incitement of hate towards anyone in opposition.

Jack Nambari says (on Koim’s facebook page)

SK…when the time comes for a volunteer to pull the trigger on his forehead [I’m not sure whether he means Greg Sheppard’s or the Prime Minister’s] you don’t have to look far. There will be a thousand volunteers. No dictator lives 9 lives!”

If you are a public figure, especially an officer of the court, you have a responsibility, should you use social media, to monitor it and manage what’s being disseminated through a page under your control.

To leave a comment like that extant is irresponsible.

…and now

This month marks the two-year anniversary of the ‘defunding’ of Task Force Sweep by the NEC and the first anniversary of its head, Sam Koim, working without salary.

TFS and its officers though, are still amassing substantial bills – especially when legally defending its own disputed ‘right to be’.

Who’s paying them and how is Koim surviving has as become two of the most burning questions today in Papua New Guinea especially after an ABC report, last week, published the quantum of fees paid to Twivey Lawyers while legitimately acting for the state on a brief out from the Attorney General.

Indeed who pays the Prime Minister’s legal bills has also been asked?

Lawyer, Greg Sheppard answered on behalf of the Prime Minister whom he said had told him to give a full, frank and transparent reply.

The Independent State of Papua New Guinea, with the full written authority of the Attorney General of Papua New Guinea [pays the legal bills of the Prime Minister],” he stated.

Sheppard then asked the same of Koim who responded:

Greg knows very well that our lawyers’ legal fees had been authorised for payment by the Attorney General.

Greg Sheppard - answered on behalf of the Prime Minister
Greg Sheppard – answered on behalf of the Prime Minister

Regulations state that no one can brief out lawyers on state matters other than the Attorney-General and the Attorney-General has publicly stated that he has given no brief out for Jema Lawyers (quantum of charge out rate unknown) and Australian barrister, Greg Egan (at around K12,000 a day plus substantial expenses), to represent neither Koim and TFS nor his officers Gitua and Damaru in the myriad and ever-growing litigation before the courts.

The fact that there has been no brief out by the Attorney-General was acknowledged by Koim who went on to say:

The authority to act is now challenged in court and pending decision. Will see what the court says. I can’t pre-empt the court decision.” He went on to add: “We make it our business to ask for legal costs of every proceedings. In all the proceedings, we have asked for legal costs of the proceedings and in most cases we were awarded.

Koim assured me that none of their lawyers were working for nothing and confirmed that they had not been paid.

As for Koim’s personal fortunes he has been relying on his own resources and has stated that transactions concerning his survival are all above board and on public record.

However, the question still remains: who’s going to pay the lawyers fees?

It won’t be Koim – and Policemen’s wages would not support the payment of daily fees and expenses in the five-figure range. Does Egan really travel to PNG using his own resources hoping that he may, one day, get reimbursed – knowing that those instructing him do not have the means – or has the payment of his fees been guaranteed by someone?

If so, whom? For he that pays the piper calls the tune.

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23 thoughts on “The incredible rise and fall of Sam Koim

  1. Thank you Susan for the post. It’s time the public asked questions many of us in the profession have been wondering about but do not ask out of courtesy to our our learned friends.

    • Hi there Nou, I’ve long respected your thoughtful responses to what’s happening in Papua new Guinea – never knee jerk. I bet you’re making a splendid lawyer.

  2. Hi Sussan, whilst I respect your comment on Sam Koim’s source of finance, you have yet to conclude who finance Sam Koim. As you claim to report on facts, can you put the fact out to substantiate your claim?. Your article does not convince me iota. It is inconclusive.

  3. Hi Susan, I always have respect for you and your views on corruption and politics in PNG. But lately I have been confronted with this question – who pays you?

  4. Does this person Dr Susan Merrell have other person to write about their stories like how O’ Neil became the riches man in PNG?

    • Is he the richest man in PNG, is he? Wow, you must have such impeccable sources. Please introduce them. No one I know has that sort of information. How much money are we talking? Has he got more than Sir Michael? More than the richest businessman (if you know who that is perhaps you could let me know that too)? However, you will need proof, I don’t print speculation and/or gossip or even just guesses fuelled by ignorance and envy.

  5. Should Dr Susan Merrel write about how O’neil got into power and if its ethical or not since she says she analysis events based on facts. I believe you should have something concrete to keep the people of PNG informed of the over throwing of Sir Michael Somare.

  6. May I know why you critic only on the people involved in opposing the current O’Neil government? Like Sam Koim, Belden Namah, Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika, etc .. I find it suspicious though

    • You may like to look back at the articles on PNG Echo before you make rash judgements. Many of my articles have been in support of Koim (when the PNG strident public wanted him lynched) and some have severely criticized the government. You are selectively reading. However, if something other than what I write interests you, then commission an article. It’s what I do. However, I won’t be writing what you necessarily want to hear – commission or no. Your question rests on an incorrect premise and is therefore unanswerable in its present form.

        • Then how quickly you forget – and how selective and convenient is your memory. To be precise it was when Koim came out and publicly exonerated the Prime Minister for any wrong doing in the Paraka matter relating to the letter of instruction. Kenneth, I suggest you ask Sam Koim himself about it – because he remembers only too well – and that I know for certain.

  7. The title of the article was “The Incredible Rise and Fall of Sam Koim”. However, it only talks about the rise, particularily the association with Sam Basil, but not the “fall”…. A substantial part, and even the conclusion, is about “who pays Sam Koim’s legal fees.” Should be consistent with the title.

    • Yes, you may be right about that. Titles are tricky things and who is paying for the litigation is a certainly a burning and unanswered question.

  8. I remember very well that the general public in PNG were in full support of Sam Koim, only the police personal were after him on the government’s direction but not the strident PNG public. I wish you were in Port Moresby to withness for yourself.

    • You have a very short memory. If you doubt my word, please ask Sam Koim yourself. The feather duster only became a rooster when he authorized (assisted?) with the arrest warrant of the PM. Before that Koim had come out and exonerated the PM – it was then that PNG wanted his blood. Go ahead, ask him.

  9. Sussan, You still do not have any facts to justify your notion of “Who pays Sam Koim”. If you do not have facts, why publish speculation?. You are a philosopher with PhD and would have know better. It seems that you fit the bill of a SPIN DOCTOR. Please maintain some level of integrity and objectivity in your articles rather then throwing up SPECULATION which only makes you look STUPID.

    • I’ve always thought using capitals unnecessarily and trying to shoot the messenger makes you look stupid. Go figure. The questions must be asked – and I’m asking them. Answers to the questions would end the speculation…and asking questions is my job!

    • Simple. The article has a subject and a point of discussion – address these and I will never fail to post your comment. Please note: I, the writer, am never the subject of discussion. And for your information: I directly asked Sam Koim the question of his funding, he offered to meet with me and tell me “off the record”, of course. I declined as I am a journalist not a keeper of secrets.

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