East Timor has deported five Portuguese judges after a court ruled in favour of US energy giant ConocoPhillips over disputed tax cases involving hundreds of millions of dollars, an official said Thursday.
“Five judges from Portugal were ordered to leave the country immediately. Until today, all of them have left,” Supreme Court chief Guilhermino da Silva told AFP.
The government has accused foreign oil companies, including ConocoPhillips, of not complying with local laws but the latter has challenged a number of tax assessments in court and won.
The US firm is a major source of revenue for the impoverished nation from its operations in the Timor Sea.
East Timor’s judicial system is made up of mostly judges and prosecutors from Portuguese-speaking countries, since winning independence from Indonesia in 2002.
Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao on Tuesday lambasted the international judicial officials, saying they had failed to protect the country’s interests.
“We wanted ConocoPhillips to pay taxes to us, but the court ruled that the government should pay a sum of money to them instead,” he said.
“The prosecutors did not defend the government and did not explain the government’s reasoning,” he said.
The High Judicial Council of Portugal in a statement on Tuesday confirmed five judges had been expelled by Dili “within the framework of international protocols on cooperation”.
The judges were “recruited and chosen by the State of East Timor”, it added.
Portuguese Justice Minister Paula Teixeira da Cruz said she was “concerned by the serious situation created by the recent decisions (of the East Timor government) which call into question the judicial cooperation between the two countries”.
“The conditions to continuing the judicial cooperation are not in place,” she added.
East Timor is the world’s most oil-dependent economy with energy reserves accounting for around 90 percent of state revenue.
Most of the money comes from a project in the Timor Sea operated by ConocoPhillips.