Pacific Scoop

PNG’s ‘great escape’ from Bomana jail an inside job, says Aimo

PNG Correctional Services Minister Tony Aimo with Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith in Port Moresby in 2008. Photo: Aust Govt

Pacific Scoop:
Backgrounder – By Titi Gabi in Port Moresby

Papua New Guinea’s Correctional Services Minister Tony Aimo believes the escape of bank robber William Kapris and 11 other hardened criminals from Bomana maximum security prison was an inside job.

Minister Aimo spoke to reporters at a news conference yesterday and fingers were pointed at officers within the jail  for aiding last Tuesday’s prison break in broad daylight.

Guards on duty at the time are now being grilled.

Questions are also being raised about why Correctional Services Commissioner Richard Sikani, who has been referred for an alleged breach of the leadership code, told the media Kapris made a quick exit to Madang.

Details of a massive manhunt remain hushed but speculation suggests Kapris and his fellow criminals may have fled on foot and by road along the treacherous Kokoda Trail or along the Magi Highway in Central Province, heading towards Aroma.

Claims that politicians are behind Kapris and the bank robberies that have plagued Papua New Guinea are not new.

During one of his court appearances in 2008, Kapris threatened to disclose the names of the “top shots” behind his robberies in an exclusive interview with YUMI FM reporter Rolland Banaba.

Unable to walk then as a result of gunshot wounds to his leg, he was angry and felt abandoned and actually pleaded with Banaba to hear him out.

Festive season
Tuesday’s escape was unexpected but calculated. It was executed at a time Port Moresby police would be winding down their festive season operations.

It started between 8am and 9am, when a female claiming to be human rights lawyer drove up to the maximum security institution and produced a letter authorising guards to release hardened prisoner John Sik Kowel.

She was allowed through without being screened or questioned further.

When she met with Kowel, she handed him a gun which was used to overpower the two guards and later demanded the release of Kapris and 10 more, this happened about 10.30 am.

Police were alerted at about 11.30 am and  NAU FM broke the story 15 minutes later. My instructions were to keep repeating the same message every 15 minutes and update the alerts as we did with new information.

Bank robber William Kapris ... toughest among 12 PNG prison escapees. Photo: The National

Breaking news script (translated from Tok Pisin)

William Kapris, the man behind the string of bank robberies has escaped from the maximum security institution at Bomana. Correctional Services has confirmed the escape of 12 hard core criminals aided by a female who posed as a Human Rights lawyers  …

Keep listening for more updates.

Full reports
Our alerts and breaking stories were linked up on both stations, NAU FM and YUMI FM. Full reports ran at midday and the alerts continued.

By mid-afternoon, one caller gave us a rather “friendly” warning about the possibility of attacks from the criminals and their mates. This was a female caller.

On Wednesday, a senior woman leader declined to comment and warned us of possible repercussions and to leave the story alone. By then, we had instructed reception to screen all news calls.

On Thursday at about 7am, a male called threatened to blow up our office and attack staff and the company vehicle.

I had a meeting with the news team and reminded them gently of the role of the media while also being vigilant.

“We will continue to report what must be reported,” I said.

How sad that they target us as the media but that is expected in this job. Internal security measures swung into action and my young team was reminded to report “without fear or favour”.

‘Fear shook us’
Fear did shake us all, given the hijacking and ransom style of crime by these robbers. But we stood by and with support from the PNG Media Council, Pacific Freedom Forum, Pacific Media Watch and encouragement from long time journalist Susuve Laumaea, we moved on together.

I was angry that we were threatened but determine to finish the job as bowing to threats would give them the upper hand and mean we were surrendering our freedom.

There is a K10,000 price tag on Kapris who is wanted dead or alive.

Titi Gabi is news director of independent commercial broadcaster PNG GM Pty Ltd, which owns NAU FM and YUMI FM.