The PM’s Signature: A Closer Look At Document Authentication

The alleged signature of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, on a letter addressed to the Finance Department settling legal fees of Paraka Lawyers, is at the centre of current investigations of Task Force Sweep Team.

Chairman of the Sweep Team, Sam Koim, engaged Forensic Document Service Propriety Limited – an Australian-based forensics organization that undertakes forensic examinations to establish the validity of documents and to identify evidence of tampering or handling of documents.


FDSPL functions in three main capabilities that contain: forensic document examination, fingerprint detection and analysis and forensic handwriting examination, which include signatures.


EM TV did some research into the subject and also found out how the authenticity of a signature may be established.


It must be noted that determining a genuine signature does not establish the genuineness of the document as a whole, as it may be the product of some form of document manipulation.


Signatures can be disputed on all kinds of documents including wills, financial documents, contracts, agreements, cheques, application forms and receipts.


Signature forgery can occur in many ways, including freehand simulation, tracing and image transfer. On the other hand, a signature may be written with some disguise with a view to deny it at a later time.


Chance coincidence in the signatures of two persons is rare but may be possible if the signature is particularly simple.


EM TV understands that the letter given to Forensic Document Service Propriety Limited was a photocopied version without the actual original letter given. Therefore, the natural question that follows is “Can an examination be made from a photocopied document that bears a signature?”


The answer is yes. Before exploring how to establish the authenticity of a photocopied document, however, we need to look at the negatives of a photocopy so that we may understand the issue clearly.


The examination of a photocopy of the original document will certainly pose some limitations in the scientific process of analysis, but it can lead to definite conclusions.


The Forensic Document Examiner may not be able to determine from a photocopy the indented writings, erasures, obliterations, watermarks, tonal gradations and color.


Also, photocopies that are less than clearly copied will not always disclose pen pressure, pen lifts, retouching, shading and sometimes the type of writing instrument used.



The authentication and introduction of documentary evidence is a matter of importance. The best approach to take in determining the authentification of a document is securing the original, unless a copy is introduced into evidence without challenge.


Some documents are self-authenticating such as ancient documents, recorded deeds and other documents over thirty years or older.


In determining the signature’s authenticity, anyone who witnessed the signing, was present and saw the document signed or anyone who can establish that he/she knows the signature may prove the document, even if it is a photocopy.


When the investigator has located an important document, either by speaking with the person responsible for the original or by serving a court order to produce the original, he should interview all witnesses concerning the document and have him, her or they available in court.


If you have no such witness or witnesses, adequate proof of the handwriting of the maker should suffice.


Anyone with knowledge of the handwriting of the writer or executor of the document can be a witness with the use of a qualified forensic document examiner.


The examiner can provide an opinion through comparison of the disputed signature with any writing proved to be the genuine handwriting or signatures of the author.


EM TV’s attempts to acquire more information on analysing the authenticity of the alleged signature of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, from Forensic Document Service Propriety Limited, were unsuccessful.

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