Minister of Climate Change and President of National United Party, Bruno Tau Leingkon has pleaded guilty to charges laid against him over an aviation incident in the Supreme Court yesterday morning.

Leingkon has been charged with actions that endanger the safety of a passenger in an aircraft, contrary to section 18(1) of the Aviation Security Act of 2007, intoxicated persons on aircraft, contrary to section 21 (1) of Aviation Security Act of 2007 and failure to comply with and observing the law, contrary to section 13 (1) (a) of the Leadership Code Act [CAP 240].

On count one, Leingkon allegedly intentionally acted in a disorderly manner that endangered the safety of passengers on board of the aircraft on the 1st of May 2020 on board flight YJ007 at Pekoa Airport, Santo. On count two, Leingkon was allegedly under the influence of alcohol and intentionally boarded flight YJ007 bound for Port Vila. On count three, he allegedly failed to comply and observe the Aviation Security Act of 2007, namely in breach of section 18(1) and section 21(1) of the same Act.

According to the summary of the facts, on 15th of May 2020, the Director of Civil Aviation lodged an official complaint against the minister for committing criminal offences under the Aviation Security Act. The allegations are that on 1st of May 2020, Leingkon was unruly intoxicated and was non-compliant to orders of the pilot in command when he boarded a charter flight from Santo to Port Vila.

The aircraft is BN-2A Islander “Oscar Nine” which has about six seats. The pilot’s statement confirmed that she knows the accused as the Minister of Climate Change. She confirmed that on the 1st of May 2020, she flew the Prime Minister, Bob Loughman and part of his delegation from Santo to Port Vila. On arrival in Port Vila, she was instructed to return to Santo to pick Leingkon.

On arrival on Santo airport, she noticed that the accused was not at the airport and she had to wait 30 minutes before he arrived at the airport. When the accused came out of the vehicle he stumbled out the vehicle with a Victoria Bitter (VB) in his hands. Leingkon came over and hugged and tried to kiss the pilot, consequentially spilling the beer down the back of her uniform.

He then went running around the airport talking with his friends. It took another 30 minutes of coaxing from his subordinates before he boarded the flight.

According to the summary of facts, another eyewitness asserted the Minister was previously drunk at the hotel he was staying in and he and two security officers had to carry him to his room because he was unable to walk. In the morning when this eyewitness went to pick up the minister to go to the airport, he observed that he was still hangover. Before they got the airport, the accused went to a Chinese shop and returned with a few cans of beers.

The accused opened a can and start drinking again. The Director General of the Ministry of Climate Change affirmed the minister was drinking before they went to the airport. This was because when they pick her up, he was already drinking VB in the vehicle.

When they all got on board the plane, the accused then removed a can of VB from his bag, opened it and continued drinking. According to the witnesses, Leingkon seemed normal when he walked out of tarmac towards the aircraft.

The DG added after takeoff, the minister was drinking a can of Victorian Bitter. The pilot in command confirmed this and added that Leingkon got a packet of cigarette and asked if he could smoke on the plane.

She said the minister was looking for a reaction from her and laughed when she gave him a stern warning to turn the plane around if he did not behave. The pilot also confirmed that she had informed her supervisor and instructions from the control tower was for her to return to Santo and to have the accused removed from the aircraft.

The defense lawyer entered pleas of guilty to three charges in the information filed to court yesterday morning.

The pre-sentence report is to be provided by 4pm on 23 April and the sentencing submissions are to be filed and served by 4pm on 21 May 2021. Following the application by the defense Lawyer yesterday, Judge Viran Molisa Trief has recused herself from further dealing with the matter and the case is transferred to another judge for sentencing.

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