Ilya Gridneff, May 2, 2012, Sydney Morning Herald
The Australian Federal Police arrested the Prime Minister's private secretary, Clarence Marae, on Friday on charges of conspiring to defraud the Commonwealth and on Monday transported him to Brisbane.
He appeared before Brisbane Magistrates Court yesterday and is set to reappear on May 16.
In the 1980s, Mr Marae was charged with taking Vanuatu's largest ever bribe.
Mr Marae was travelling with the Prime Minister, Sato Kilman, on an official trip to Israel when he was detained in transit.
A spokeswoman for the federal police confirmed they arrested a 51-year-old man at Sydney Airport on Friday.
''As this is an ongoing investigation, it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time,'' she said.
A Vanuatu embassy source told the Herald they were waiting for Mr Kilman to make a public statement.
''The AFP didn't tell us too much but it's in relation to an alleged tax scam,'' he said.
The Herald understands that the arrest is connected to the joint operation Project Wickenby, run predominantly by the Australian Taxation Office. The operation has cracked down on Australians using Vanuatu as a tax haven.
Mr Marae is an alleged associate of the Victorian accountant Ian Henke, who in March last year was jailed, along with two Queensland accountants, for their roles in a multimillion-dollar tax avoidance scheme that stripped and transferred the assets of 69 companies through an intricate network of firms in Australia and Vanuatu.
Mr Marae, an accomplished lawyer with decades of experience in Vanuatu's public service, has been no stranger to controversy.
In 1996, Vanuatu's chief justice Vaudin d'Imecourt said that Mr Marae was convicted ''for acts of considerable dishonesty'', misappropriating 1,348,000 vatu ($14,038) from the Vanuatu Cultural Centre.
At the time, Mr d'Imecourt said Mr Marae was ''the sort of person that Vanuatu has a great deal of need for, if it was not for his dishonest streak''.
In 1989, Mr Marae received a two-year suspended jail sentence coupled with a fine when found guilty of four charges of corruption when working as a government secretary.
''Mr Marae received what was then described as the largest bribe ever received by a Ni-Vanuatu,'' Mr d'Imecourt said.