Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Trial of the Ornithologist-Arms Dealer of Goroka (part 3)

The Trial of the Ornithologist-Arms Dealer of Goroka
by A. Mack (& F. Kafka)

Part 3 of 3

A trial date was set in a few months. 
Then it was cancelled.
Then a new date was set.
Then it was cancelled.

I lost track of how many dates were set and postponed.  The judge was on vacation, it was too close to Christmas... you name it.  But at any rate, it was well over a year until a date was set and not postponed.  In all that time I had to build my field schedule and travel and life around ephemeral court dates.  I just wanted to go to court and get on with it.

The day was finally here.  An assistant state's attorney flew up from Port Moresby to prosecute the case.  She was put up in the most expensive hotel in town.  Already this was costing the state more than the maximum fine could be.  In the documents we received from the prosecutor we learned that this was the only federal case being tried in Eastern Highlands Province that year.  Now if you know PNG, you are familiar with its reputation for crime and corruption.  But in this province of 250,000 people, my box of #13 shot .410 shells was the only issue worth taking to trial.  It seemed someone had it in for me.

Bernie and I arranged to meet the prosecuting attorney before the trial.  I wanted to see if we could bargain.  I was prepared to plead no contest and pay the maximum penalty and all court costs, just so long as it did not appear on my record in a way that could jeopardize my visa.  The prosecutor did not even think it over. 
"We need to prosecute crimes like this."  she said.

Bernie gave a little shrug.  He did not seem too concerned.

The time came and into the court we went.  If you are picturing anything like a courtroom like the hundreds you see on television, you are nowhere near picturing this court.

This room was more like a simple school class room.  The two sides of the court were jalousie windows, with a good number of broken panes.  A crowd of 60-80 onlookers pressed their faces to the windows.  The judicial offices were part of a complex of government offices where at any time hundreds of people loitered, mostly waiting for someone to show up in their office, or they were office workers out for a chew of buai and storytelling with some wantoks.

Inside the court was a battered creaky wood floor.  There were two tables behind which the two lawyers sat with   briefcases in front of them.  On the side was a bench made of a single 2X8.  That was where I sat.  In the front was a little podium like thing the judge sat behind, facing the lawyers.  

 I was going to spend hours sitting on the plank facing a wall of people gawking at me.  "Hey, there's a white guy on trial!"  This was indeed something new.

PNG is part of the British Commonwealth.  They acquired some of the same traditions.  The lawyers and judge all wore long black robes.  The robes looked like they might have dated back to colonial days.... not when Australia ran things, but back to British days after World War I.

The lawyers and judge all had white wigs on.  Well, perhaps white at one time.   But these wigs looked like they had once be used in England and when no longer fit for use, sent to PNG.... some decade or so ago and never washed.  The wigs were not white, not gray, but tinged with a brownish color.  They looked like they'd been used to mop up spilled Coke.  Often.  I'm sorry, but to an American there is something ridiculous looking about black Papuans with their curly hair (long in the case of the prosecutor) standing with dirty wigs sort of perched atop their heads, like a road killed poodle landed on top of them.

The Prosecutor stood and began her introduction

"Your honor we are here today to hear the case of....."

"STOP" said the judge.  Was it over already?  Was he about to throw out the case?

No, he was writing her words verbatim with a pencil on a yellow lined tablet.  Did I mention there was no stenographer in the room?


"Andrew Mack a US citizen who"

"STOP"  he scrawled away.


"the state charges with attempting to illegally import"

"STOP"  you could almost see his lips moving as he wrote out the words.

Holy shit I thought.  Haven't these guys ever heard of a tape recorder?  This was going to take forever--  and it did.  Two and a half days.  Even the peering faces outside grew bored and went to more exciting past times, like napping in the courtyard.  This was about the most tedious and boring experience of my life, and I know tedium.  But I dared not look bored or show expression.  I just sat there and took it.

But it turned out Bernie was pretty good.  He let the prosecutor go on and on.  And on some more.

We had some witnesses, like the Customs Agent kid who confiscated the ammunition.  Bernie let them tell their side of the story at great length, and I wondered if we just listened to this claptrap without comment.  But then he began to unveil the defense.

The key Customs document was signed by Jeffrey, the only authorized Customs Agent in Goroka.  As it turned out Jeffrey was in Lae, about 8 hours away by road, when the shipment was confiscated.  He never saw the shipment.  The document with his signature had been one of many blanks left already signed for the kid to use. 

Jeffrey was called in to confirm his whereabouts and he was not looking too happy.  This could be the end of his cushy job as the only Customs Agent in Goroka.  Yes, he sheepishly admitted.  He was not there and never saw the ammunition.  Yes, he was away often and left signed documents for the kid.

The AirNiugini baggage handler was called in.  Had he seen the ammunition?
No, he only saw the customs declaration and informed the kid about it.

The kid was up again.  Could he describe the ammunition?

"Well it was a heavy box, like ammunition."

Bernie, "What color were the shells?  Were they brass?"

"Ummm... I'm not sure."  The kid was starting to squirm a little.

"Ummm.... I did not need to see them, the declaration said ammunition."

Bernie, "Well it is possible the declaration was wrong.  I think we need to confirm just what is in box in question.  The prosecutor should show the court the contraband."

Prosecutor, "Ummm.... You Honour, it recently came to the prosecution's attention that the ammunition in question has gone missing from the police vault."

Remember, all this was punctuated with STOP and resume every few words, it unfurled slowly like a rose opening in the morning dew.  And Bernie was not rushing it at all.   Had I been in Bernie's wig, in the first hour I'd have jumped up and said the prosecution had lost the evidence.  But Bernie knew what he was doing.  I could see the judge slowly becoming more and more annoyed with the prosecution.  No one likes to have their time wasted, even a judge with deliberate penmanship.  And it was shaping up after two days that this was exactly what the prosecution was doing, wasting the judge's time.

Bernie, "It seems that no one saw the contraband in question.  There is no contraband to present.  In fact the only thing to suggest there ever was any contraband was a declaration filled out by the defendant.  His only crime might be misunderstanding the PNG declaration form. 

For a moment I was afraid I would have to testify what was in my box, but I guess that either could not be done, or it did not matter, since the only relevant testimony would be mine.

After two days, I felt like it was looking like a slam dunk.  The prosecutor was looking a bit like "How am I going to explain this to my boss."

On day three we reconvened for the judge's decision.  This was the first oration that was not punctuated with STOPS since he was reading his own document.  The verdict-- there was insufficient evidence of a crime and charges were dropped. 

Things in PNG often work in ways that are invisible to foreigners like me.  I have many friends in Goroka who knew of my problems with the law.  Did one of my friends have a friend in the police department that helped the ammo go missing?  Maybe even Bernie, who never seemed worried.  Certainly no one ever gave me a wink wink, nudge nudge, don't you worry.  Quite possibly someone was looking out for me.

Was the ammo stolen for resale?  Possibly and that could be troubling except these weren't ordinary shells.  I can imagine some raskol criminal rigging up a .410 to rob people and find it only stings and pisses off their first victim.  Or maybe some hapless hunter would try to shoot a pig and find themselves with an angry pig.  Those shells were lethal to small birds at close range, not much else.

I never did get to do the collecting as hoped.  We managed with nets and long weeks of effort.  The data were good and have since been published.  But when you read the methods section of the paper, you won't get a real idea of what we went through to get our samples.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Trial of the Ornithologist-Arms Dealer of Goroka (part 2)

The Trial of the Ornithologist-Arms Dealer of Goroka
by A. Mack (& F. Kafka)

Part 2 of 3.

One day I finally hit the jackpot.  Jeffrey was there.

By now I was not sure these guys would help me sort this out.

Jeffrey told me he had to report my ammunition to the Police and District Attorney.  I told him the Police were in fact helping me prepare the paperwork and that since the ammo was still in his storage, it was not technically imported.

"Oh no, he said.  The police took the ammunition.  It is evidence.  They have it in their storage." 

I wasn't going to be able to nip this one in the bud.  Things were quickly moving beyond my limited sphere of influence.

The paperwork was such that I had to enter a plea, guilty or not guilty, and if I did the later, a date for a hearing would be set.  I was going to need a lawyer, of which there are a fair number in Goroka.   Many are in plywood cubicle offices with "broken phones" and AWOL receptionists.   I asked around and just about everyone told me something different

"go with Praknet and Wingnut."

"Whatever you do, don't use Praknet and Wingnut."

"My cousin works for Griznit and Smith, I'll ask her..... She says Griznet and Smith aren't actually lawyers...."

Eventually I found a guy two people had recommended and no one had said to avoid. 

I carefully wrote out the entire scenario and copied all my documents, my customs declaration, etc. and gave it to my lawyer,  Jacob Dimhuh.  He said his job would be to compile the information into a brief that would be presented to the judge in order to determine if we would need to go to a trial.  I was still optimistic that a cogent explanation to the judge, a rational thinker who understood the law, would result with the charges being dismissed.

By now a few months had already elapsed.   The wheels of justice turn slowly in PNG, if they do indeed turn.  Jacob was going to file the brief on my behalf.  I said I wanted to review it to make sure it was OK.

"Really?  That is rather unusual, I'm the lawyer and you probably won't understand."
"Well, I just want to know what is going on, so please let me see before you file anything."

"It's your money, sure."

I got the document a couple weeks later.  There were grammatical errors and misspellings in just about every sentence.  I counted. A fifth grader could have written this.

I waded in with my red pen and started fixing wrong verb tenses and introduced the author to the concept of a comma.  I wasn't feeling good about this and as I read on it became clear the author, my lawyer, had not really read any of the documentation I had given him.

By the third page it was explaining why I brought the ammunition and guns into PNG.

Guns??!  There were never any guns.  My own lawyer was adding serious charges rather than dismissing trivial ones.

I called Dimhuh and told him he was off the case.  He did not seem surprised.  I got the feeling most his clients fired him.

Back to the search for a lawyer.  Mimi said there was a young guy in town who had been at university with her and that he was pretty smart.  Jeremiah Wissus, but everyone called him Bernie.

Smart.  Smart is good.  I went to meet Bernie and liked him.  There was someone at home, and the lights were on.  Dimhuh had the look of a catatonic on heroin.

Bernie prepared the paperwork.  When I reviewed it I found it to be a pretty concise and cogent summary of the chain of events.  He cited various statutes and clauses.  Unfortunately nowhere in any legal regulations was there any description of how to import ammunition legally.  But since it was confiscated, that seemed to be enough to deem my particular activities illegal.

Some months later the decision came back and we would have to go to trial.
Now I was really getting stewed.  As a US Citizen in PNG, a conviction like this might be sufficient to have my visa revoked.  I could be banned from the country.  All my efforts of about 15 years could be cut short.  The program I had built, the research stations, the mentoring program, the half dozen support staff....  I could be forced to leave it instantly if a trial ruled against me.

Bernie was not particularly concerned, but like a good lawyer, did not put any probabilities on the outcome.  He said "you never know, you get a bad judge, or he doesn't like your looks..."  his voice trailing off.

PNG has its share of bureaucrats, police, and politicians who had reason to be pissed at Australians.  They'd been mistreated in some way...  A lot of Queenslanders, especially, are a bit racist in their former colony.  They were all white.  I am white.  It was not that uncommon for PNGeans to dismiss me for my skin color and only later come to realize I wasn't like the Aussie bastards that had called them stupid wogs.  So far all that had happened was this whole mess seemed to get worse and worse.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Trial of the Ornithologist-Arms Dealer of Goroka (part1)

The Trial of the Ornithologist-Arms Dealer of Goroka
by A. Mack (& F. Kafka)

Part 1 of 3

One of my projects in PNG required collecting a good series of some common bird species at specific lowland sites.  Getting these series was often impossible and always difficult using only mist nets, requiring several weeks of intensive effort per site.  One way to speed up the work would be if we could shoot specific individuals-- we would not have to rely on random luck for the individual to hit a net.

Guns are difficult to purchase or import to PNG, but often villagers have a gun.  They lack ammunition.  When they do have shells, it is heavy loads for large game like pigs.  To collect small birds we use a #13 shot that is a special museum load.  It is not particularly dangerous to people unless fired at close range.  I had the brilliant idea to import some museum load ammunition and employ a local hunter to get the birds we need.

Importing ammo is not as difficult.  I consulted with the Royal Constabulary of PNG.  They were not particularly sure, but eventually I go through to the person in Port Moresby who instructed me how to legally import ammunition.  Their instruction was to import it to PNG and declare it at Customs so it could be placed in Customs Bonded Storage.  I would then complete the paperwork with the RCPNG, get their authorisation, take the paperwork to Customs and it would be released to me. 
Sounded simple.

While in the US I secured an ample supply of museum load shotgun shells for a .410.  I already had a .410 aux barrel in PNG, which you can use to fire the smaller .410 shells from a .12 gauge, the standard size of village guns.  I was surprised how easy it is to carry ammunition in your luggage.   This was post 9/11 and I expected all sorts of hassle at the airport.  But TSA was more interested in my shoes than the 50 lbs of explosives in my luggage. 

The airline check-in agent said "Oh ammunition is no problem, so long as you declare it and it is in an approved container.  Is it in an approved container?"

"Yes." I said

"Then I'll take it."  Not so much as a blink or "please open the suitcase." 

Off to PNG.

The bag got checked straight through to Goroka.  I was surprised to learn there is a Customs Agent in Goroka where international deliveries can arrive without having to pass through Moresby. 

When I went to pick up the case at the AirNiugini Customs window I was met by a kid, maybe 18 years old.  He looked at the Customs Declaration and saw ammunition and this somehow alerted him that this might not be the usual shipment of bibles for the New Tribes Mission. 

He said "I'm going to have to confiscate this."

"Yes, I said, I want you to store this-- that is why I declared it.  You are to provide me with a receipt/claim.  I'll get the final paperwork from RCPNG and come back to pick it up." 
As soon as I can get the paperwork.... which it turned out was not going to happen quickly.

All seemed well as I prompted my contact in the Constabulary every few days for the necessary permit....  until the summons arrived for my arrest. 
I was charged with illegal import of controlled ammunition.  I thought this must be some sort of mistake.  The ammo was still in bonded storage and so technically was never actually imported.

I went down to the office of the Customs Agent-- a dingy plywood-walled cubicle on the second floor of a two story building that as far as I could tell was fully partitioned into many such plywood cubicles with all sorts of odd businesses on the doors.  The halls were filthy and sullen people shuffled along with vacant stares.  Nothing happened fast in this place. 

There was another kid there and he had no idea what was going on.  I'd need to come back when Jeffrey was there.

"When will Jeffrey be back?"

"I don't know....  maybe tomorrow? yeah come back tomorrow."

"When tomorrow?"

I could see this was a really challenging set of questions.  Kid #2 seemed to have never been asked anything about the business.  I got the feeling Jeffrey plopped one of his kids in the office then went somewhere to drink or maybe run a different business.

"Do you know when Jeffrey will be back tomorrow?"

"Ummm....  maybe in the morning.  Yeah come back in the morning."

"Ten-oclock OK?"

"Yeah ten O'clock is good."

"Please tell the boss I'll be here at ten.  Is there a number I can call to check if he is here so I don't have to drive down?"

"Ummmm... the phone doesn't work."

In Goroka-ese this means we haven't paid our bill for so long they cut the service.

"OK ten-o'clock."

"Ummm... ten o'clock what?"

"That's when I'll meet Jeffrey."

"Oh yeah, I knew that.  Jeffrey."

I went through a number of visits like this.  Sometimes no one was there, sometimes a different kid or a woman.  Anyone who has tried to do any sort of business in Goroka knows this routine, just standard operating procedure.  It is one reason you need a vehicle because you usually need to chase people all over town or over time to find them.  "Business hours" means when you went to do your business.  So if you needed to go shopping you did it during business hours, even if you job is the receptionist for the doctor.  "You can't schedule an appointment now, the receptionist went to the market...."