Papua New Guinea’s prime minister says he will shut down the country’s finance department if he has to while allegations of improper payments are investigated.
The opposition has alleged the department paid law firm Paul Paraka Lawyers more than $30 million without the proper approvals.
Prime minister Peter O’Neill has suspended the finance secretary and the deputy secretary while the allegations are investigated.
“I will go down as far as sacking the cleaner if I have to,” he said.
“If we have to shut down the finance department for one month or two months we will to get to the bottom of this.”
The law firm insists the payments were approved by the country’s former attorney-general.
Principal lawyer Paul Paraka says it is “premature to allege any impropriety… without all the parties being heard”.
From NBC PNG NEWS via Islands Business
The Papua New Guinea Government has been called on to consider imposing the highest penalties on people involved in corporate fraud.
Member for Kundiawa/Gembogl, Tobias Kulang, made this call in Parliament Tuesday, and again at a media conference soon after, following revelations of a massive white collar and corporate crime within the Finance Department.
Kulang says public funds belonging to the men, women and children of PNG, which could been used to build and maintain infrastructure to improve their lives, are being misused, through fraud and white collar crimes, while those who deserve services are dying unnecessarily.
The MP says these are high level citizens who are held in high esteem, and should be charged with systematic murder.
” We are talking about tougher penalties for small people who may be committing crime because of lack of economic means. What about the people involved in corporate crime who are committing systematic murder, who are depriving the people from means to better economic life and opportunities? They are stealing money and our people who are supposed to have access to better health services, better infrastructure are dying because of lack of accessibility. What are we going to do about those people who are causing systematic death and misery in our community?”
Prime Minister Peter O’ Neill agrees stiffer penalties need to be put in place for such people.
O’Neill says the government is committed to its fight against corruption of all forms in the country.
He says this will be dealt with under the current proposed move by the government to increase penalties for the various forms of crimes occurring in the country.
Opposition Leader Belden Namah alleges Paul Paraka lawyers has continued to fraudulently claim millions of Kina from the State since the Finance Department Commission of Inquiry uncovered Paraka’s scam. Namah says the latest payments, totalling K71 million, were paid between Feb. 2012 and May this year…
Belden Namah MP
Paul Paraka Lawyers has been paid tens of millions of Kina between 2001 and 2006 under a retainer agreement with the Department of Attorney General for the law firm to defend the state against claims made against the state. Large amounts of money paid to this law firm, and similar payments to others by the Department of Finance, raised eye brows in Waigani, which resulted in the then Somare Government setting up a Commission of Inquiry, known as the Finance Inquiry.
The Finance Inquiry concluded its inquiry and presented a report to the then Prime Minister, the Right Hon Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare. As the Prime Minister prepared to table the report in Parliament, Paul Paraka Lawyers flew all the way into Alotau from Port Moresby to obtain a National Court Order (ex parte) restraining the Prime Minister from tabling the report in Parliament.
The order, which was a temporary order and returnable for substantive hearing, has never been heard of to this day and is collecting dust in the National and Supreme Court Registry. The Registrar’s office and the office of the Attorney General owe an explanation on what became of this case as the Finance Inquiry not only cost the people of Papua New Guinea K27 million but the report contains findings on how millions of public funds went missing and who improperly benefited out of these public funds.
The blatant neglect of duty and failure to prosecute the matter and have it discharged has resulted in the COI report, also, collecting dust somewhere in the Offices of the Prime Minister.
History would have it that this is the first time in Papua New Guinea that a Commission of Inquiry report, costing tax payers millions of Kina to produce, has been suppressed by any one, from being tabled in Parliament and made available for public consumption.
[The Commission of Inquiry Report can be accessed here: http://pngexposed.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/the-full-finance-department-commission-of-inquiry-report/ ]
Papua New Guineans have been deliberately, or by neglect of duty, denied their right to know whether hundreds of millions of their monies paid to Paul Paraka Lawyers and others by the Department of Finance, were legitimate payments.
Further to the above, the Hon. Bire Kimisopa, Member for Goroka upon becoming the Minister for Justice, commissioned in 2006, a Departmental Inquiry into “Brief-Out” of cases by the Attorney General’s Office. The inquiry was chaired by the former Chief Justice, Sir Arnold Amet, and the now Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hon Rimbink Pato was a member of the inquiry team.
Upon receipt of the inquiry report in late 2006, the Hon. Bire Kimisopa terminated the retainer contract with Paul Paraka Lawyers and all case files were returned to the Attorney General’s Office.
The Law Firm then took the State to Court claiming outstanding bills of around K6 million for the entire contract period. The National Court, in proceeding OS 876, decided in favour of Paraka Lawyers and ordered the state to pay a little over K6 million.
The state appealed the decision of the National Court, disputing among others, the amount awarded. Pending the hearing of the appeal, the state successfully obtained from the Supreme Court a stay order restraining the payment of any state funds against the National Court Order to Paul Paraka Lawyers. The stay order was issued through Supreme Court proceeding number; SCM 3 of 2007 which is current and on foot and has never been discharged.
The Honourable Davies Steven, now Minister for Civil Aviation was the lawyer acting for the state in both the National and Supreme Court proceedings and can attest to this fact.
This means that Paraka Lawyers is not entitled to any payment at all from the state. No new legal work has been given by the state to Paul Paraka Lawyers since 2007 to warrant any payment.
Paul Paraka Lawyers has been providing pro bono legal services to private citizens for some time now. However, this work is not authorized or contracted by the state and remains free legal services provided to people at the firm’s own accord. It is not entitled to make any claims against the state.
This is confirmed by the fact that at least three senior Judges of the National and Supreme Courts and the Attorney General, Honourable Kerenga Kua have spoken out against the law firm’s so called pro bono legal services as unconstitutional and without legal foundation.
Despite the fact that the Commission of Inquiry report on the missing millions from the Finance Department is yet to be made public, and despite the fact that the retainer agreement between the Attorney Generals Department and Paul Paraka Lawyers ceased or terminated in late 2006, and despite a current and effective Supreme Court Order barring any payment of funds to Paraka Lawyers, millions of Kina has continuously been paid to Paraka Lawyers since 2007 up to the present time.
No information is available on how much has illegally been paid to Paraka Lawyers between 2007 and 2012.
However, between February 2012 and up to May this year 2013, a staggering K71.8 million has been paid by the Department of Finance to Paul Paraka Lawyers. This indeed is a huge amount of public money going into a single Law Firm in just one year.
These payments are nothing but daylight robbery of the people of Papua New Guinea by various individuals colluding with Paul Paraka Lawyers to defraud the Independent State of Papua New Guinea of its monies.
People in the Departments of Attorney General and Finance, and the National and Supreme Court Registry and other public and private organizations, including the media, have been colluding and conniving with Paul Paraka Lawyers and facilitating the fraud and or preventing the fraud from being exposed and dealt with by the law.
On 17 February 2012, the first batch totalling K30 million was paid indirectly to Paraka Lawyers through a web of law firms and a company. The second batch of K14 million was paid on 2nd November 2012. The third payment of K13.8 million was made on 21 December 2012 The fourth batch of K6 million was paid on 13 March 2013 and the latest payment is an amount of K8 million paid on 6 May 2013. The grand total to date is K71.8 million and there is information that a fresh batch of claims, has been or is about to be lodged with the Department of Finance.
It is to be noted that the K14 million paid in November 2013 and the K13 million paid in December 2013 was from trust accounts as these payments were unbudgeted for.
Paul Paraka Lawyers have not been given any work by state and has not done any work for the state since 2007 and it is amazing how such a massive K71 million could be given away for free to this firm.
Mr Paraka has solicited and received these funds through false pretence and with intention to defraud the state.
Mr Paraka, the principal of Paul Paraka Lawyers being a lawyer and knowing full well of the existence of the Supreme Court Order barring his firm of being paid any money from his claim for outstanding bills, used a web of law firms and a company to be paid the first K30 million to avoid violation of the current Supreme Court Order.
At Mr Paraka’s instruction to the Finance Department, the K30 million was broken up and paid to the recipient conduit law firms and a company in the following manner,
1. Paul Othas Lawyers K6, 000.000
2. Harvey Nii Lawyers K6, 000,000
3. Sino & Company K6, 000,000
4. Jack Kilipi Lawyers K6, 000,000
5. PKP Nominees Ltd K6, 000,000
Upon presentation of the cheques in the above amounts by the conduit recipients at the Bank of South Pacific, it appears the Bank was reluctant to allow deposits and subsequent transactions on the funds. However, with the intervention of two senior officers of the Department of Finance namely, Messrs Melton Bogege (Financial Controller) and Yeme Kaivila (Senior Accountant) the cheques were cleared. The two officers co-signed a letter dated 20 February which read in part, (quote):
“The payments were based on a valid Court Order and appropriate audit process was carried out and clearance from the Solicitor General. The Department of Finance had no right to question such authority, and facilitated the payment on the endorsement and approval of the Secretary for Finance”.
The two officers deliberately lied and mislead the Bank, in particular the assertion that the payments were based on a valid court order and that the Solicitor General’s Office had cleared the payments.
Mr Paraka is also believed to have written numerous letters justifying the payments and even gone to the extent of issuing veil threats to BSP staff if they refused to clear the cheques.
Eventually, BSP allowed the cheques to be cleared. The cash from the funds are believed to have been remitted back to Paul Paraka Lawyers by the recipient conduit firms, minus their commissions.
Apart from the K30 million paid using conduit firms, all the other payments amounting K41 million have been made directly to Paul Paraka Lawyers.
It is believed that the decision by Mr Paraka to have later payments made direct to his firm is because the Bank of South Pacific has warned that it will not clear any more funds channelled through conduit firms.
The Solicitor General’s Office, upon learning of the above payments by the Finance Department filed a complaint with Task Force Sweep and the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Squad to investigate this massive fraud. When investigations commenced and a search warrant was obtained to search and obtain documents at BSP, Paul Paraka Lawyers ran to the District Court and filed an application to set aside the search warrant with a view to concealing the whole saga.
Documents obtained from the District Court Registry at Waigani, confirm that Mr Paul Paraka has filed an application to set aside the search warrants, and further, for a permanent restraining order to restrain any investigations into these allegations.
In his affidavit in support of the application, Mr Paraka admits receiving those funds but for work undertaken in the past. He deposes in his affidavit that there is no stay order and lists a number of Court orders.
The orders, which Mr Paraka refers to were consolidated in Os 876 of 2006 and was superseded by the Supreme Court decision in SCM 3 of 2007 which stayed the orders and the entire proceedings of OS 876.
Mr Paraka has lied on oath by making false and misleading statements that he was entitled to receive the payments, when clearly, he or his firm is not.
Numerous visits and attempts are made to the Fraud and Anti-Corruption Squad and Task Force Sweep authorities investigating this matter to drop the investigations. The case officers are believed to have been threatened and intimidated.
Questions for the Attorney General
Honourable Minister and Attorney General; The Government has been preaching about fighting corruption to the core, which has been welcomed by the people of Papua New Guinea and indeed, those of us on this side of the House.
High on the O’Neill-Dion Governments agenda would have to be fighting white collar criminals who continuously steal millions and millions of Public Funds. Our people are dying or suffering every day as a result of lack of basic services, simply because a very few selfish and greedy white collar criminals steal the money, that otherwise would have been used, to meet their needs.
The questions I am about to ask you relate to a massive K71 million fraud involving a major Law Firm. The questions are as follows;
- Can the Minister confirm or deny that a law firm called Paul Paraka Lawyers has any current and valid contract or retainer agreement with the Independent State of Papua New Guinea for legal services?
- Can the Minister confirm or deny that a retainer agreement signed in 2001 with Paul Paraka Lawyers was terminated in late 2006 by none other than the Honourable Bire Kimisopa, the Member for Goroka, then Minister for Justice, following an investigation into ‘Out of Court Settlements’ handled by this law firm?
- Can the Minister confirm or deny that Paul Paraka Lawyers, upon termination of the retainer agreement by the Hon Kimisopa, took the state to court, claiming a little over K6 million as outstanding bills for the contract period, that is, from 2001 to 2006?
- Can the Minister confirm or deny that the National Court awarded the claim of K6 million by Paraka Lawyers in Os 876 of 2006?
- Can the Minister confirm or deny, that the ‘Orders’ of the National Court obtained by Paraka Lawyers in OS 876 and the ‘Entire Proceedings’, in OS 876 were stayed by the Supreme Court in proceedings SCM 03 of 2007, on application by the state?
- If the answer to Q5 is in the affirmative, can the Minister then confirm that Paul Paraka Lawyers is not entitled to be paid any monies against his claims unless the Supreme Court Orders are discharged or the substantive appeal is determined?
- If the answer to Q6 is in the affirmative, is the Minister aware that a massive K71 million has been paid to Paul Paraka Lawyers between February 2012 and May 2013 by the Department of Finance allegedly for outstanding bills or court orders?
For your convenience, the schedule of payments is as follows;
Feb 17/ 2012 K30, 000,000
Nov 02 /2012 K13, 800,000
Dec 21 /2012 K14, 000,000
Mar 13 /2013 K06, 000,000
May 6 /2013 K08, 000,000
- Can the Minister inform the Parliament and the people of Papua New Guinea if the pay out of this huge amount of public money has been sanctioned or cleared by the Solicitor General or your office?
- If the answer is in the negative, will the Minister take immediate steps to have this DAYLIGHT ROBBERY of the people of Papua New Guinea dealt with swiftly by the Fraud Squad and Task Force Sweep and those who have schemed and facilitated and or benefited from this massive fraud brought to justice?
- As the Attorney General, will you refer the Principal of Paul Paraka Lawyers to the PNG Law Society to be dealt with by the Lawyers Statutory Committee for what is undoubtedly, a scandalous and unethical conduct by a very senior lawyer?
- Will you assure this Parliament that you will also pursue contempt proceedings against all those concerned for violating the Supreme Court Order SCM 3 of 2007, which stayed payment of any public funds to Paul Paraka Lawyers?
- Honourable Minister, three senior Judges of the National and Supreme Courts and your self have come out stating that a so called pro bono legal aid service provided to the public by this particular law firm is unconstitutional. Could you confirm therefore, that Paul Paraka Lawyers is not entitled to any payment by the state in consideration of its pro bono legal aid service?
- Mr Minister, if the Solicitor General’s or your Office has not cleared and authorized the Department of Finance to pay K71.8 million to Paul Paraka Lawyers, then can you inform this Parliament who in Government authorized such a hefty and corrupt payment and for what?
- Finally, Mr Minister, will you inform this Parliament as to what became of the Finance Commission of Inquiry which cost the tax payers K27 million but was suppressed by this same law firm from being tabled in this Parliament by taking out a preventive Order through the National Court? The order was a temporary order and returnable for substantive hearing but is never heard of, to this day!
In 2010 we published the details from the Finance Department Commission of Inquiry.
But those whole stole hundreds of millions of Kina have never faced justice.
Please take a moment to remind yourself of the enormous scale of their crime:
The Paraka scams – K780 million stolen from the people – http://pngexposed.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/the-paraka-scams-k780-million-stolen-from-the-people/
The full Finance Department Commission of Inquiry report – http://pngexposed.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/the-full-finance-department-commission-of-inquiry-report/
Paul Paraka lawyers trying to block private email messages and censor access to the internet - http://pngexposed.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/paul-paraka-lawyers-trying-to-block-private-email-messages-and-censor-access-to-the-internet/
Yama and Gelu conspired to steal K15.5 million from the people of PNG – http://pngexposed.wordpress.com/2010/05/18/yama-and-gelu-conspired-to-steal-k15-5-million-from-the-people-of-png/
Finance Sec Gabriel Yer led a triad whole stole K1.6 million – http://pngexposed.wordpress.com/2010/05/20/finance-sec-gabriel-yer-led-a-triad-whole-stole-k1-6-million/
Zacchary Gelu and Mundua Kua tried to steal K1.7 million in another Paraka style scam – http://pngexposed.wordpress.com/2010/05/22/zacchary-gelu-and-mundua-kua-tried-to-steal-k1-7-million-in-another-paraka-style-scam/
Isaac Lupari, aided by Gelu and Paraka lawyers, stole K3.7 million – http://pngexposed.wordpress.com/2010/05/31/isaac-lupari-aided-by-gelu-and-paraka-lawyers-stole-k3-7-million/
Dept of Lands completely incompetent and dishonest - http://pngexposed.wordpress.com/2010/06/01/dept-of-lands-completely-incompetent-and-dishonest/
Soiat Williams and Zacchary Gelu conspired to steal K500,000 – http://pngexposed.wordpress.com/2010/06/03/soiat-williams-and-zacchary-gelu-conspired-to-steal-k500000/
Tom Rangip and Pacific Paradise Foods unlawfully paid K14.85 million - http://pngexposed.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/tom-rangip-and-pacific-paradise-foods-unlawfully-paid-k14-85-million/
Corruption is a word writ large over the relationship between PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and his newly appointed Chairman of PNG Ports, Nathaniel Poya ( or Polya).
Poya took up his new role in February this year despite a history of corruption, failed businesses, debts and conflicts of interest.
O’Neill and Poya’s role in the NPF scandal
O’Neill and Poya first came to attention in the investigation into the huge National Provident Fund corruption scandal.
The Commission of Inquiry, headed by retired Justice Tos Barnett, revealed O’Neill and Poya jointly owned a company named Mecca (No.36) which received large illegal payments from the National Provident Fund.
At that time Poya was both a trustee of NPF and a director and shareholder of Mecca.
The Commission found that on 17 May 1999, K100,000 derived from the NPF Tower fraud was deposited into the account of Mecca (no.36) and “that such money was not earned”.
The Commission of Inquiry recommended both O’Neill and Poya be referred to the Ombudsman Commission for potential breach of the Leadership Code:
(e) MR Poiya and Mr O’Neill benefited from the payment to Mecca;
(f) THE benefit received by trustee Poiya was improper and the commission recommends that he be referred to the Ombudsman to consider whether there had been a breach of the Leadership Code by Mr Poiya; and
(g) The benefit received by Mr O’Neill was improper and at the time he was subject to the Leadership Code, being executive director of Finance Pacific.
In addition the Commission of Inquiry found O’Neill also benefited from and ordered many other corrupt payments involving NPF Tower fraud proceeds. A further K50,000 from the NPF fraud was paid to O’Neill’s former wife, Cheryl Caley
The Commission also stated:
Mr O’Neill’s explanations were unacceptable, internally inconsistent and contrary to clearly documented factual evidence
Poya not a fit and proper person to head PNG Ports
Nathaniel Poya is also not a fit and proper person to head any public corporation or government department because of some of his other business dealings.
Poya was a shareholder and director in Voco Point Trading Ltd when it went into liquidation in 2004 owing K3.9 million to 89 creditors including Bank of South Pacific.
In a subsequent legal case, National Court judge Justice Gabi was highly critical of the company’s failure to pay taxes or file tax returns for a number of years, conduct the judge described as “contrary to corporate morality or public interest”. [OS 291 of 2007, Poya -v- Paki at para 15]
Conflicts of Interest
O’Neill is also wrong to appoint Poya to Chair PNG Ports, as Poya is alleged to have a clear conflict of interest.
Mr Poya it is claimed has his own stevedoring business, PNG National Stevedoring. In this role Poya previously took the Minister for Transport to court for not awarding his company lucrative ports contracts; a court case that Poya subsequently lost.
O’Neill himself is also in a conflict of interest situation in this matter as Mr Poya, according to MP Sam Basil, is also a relative of the Prime Minister. [Post Courier 10 May 2013]
By STEVEN ANDRE via PNG BLOGS
Is there are Court Order preventing any body to raise or discuss any recent illegal payments to Paul Paraka?
Time and again, when an issue about this monster called Paul Paraka Lawyers is about to surface either in Court, Parliament, Media or anywhere else, a so called “Court Order” is pleaded/waved to suppress. Well, Mr Paraka can wave the Court Order as high as he can, but let’s read the contents of the order.
The relevant parts of the Justice Sakora’s Orders he granted on Saturday 6th March 2010 reads:
2. Pending the determination of leave application, an interim injunction is granted staying the implementation of the recommendations in the Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry generally into the Finance Department pursuant to the inherent powers of the Court under Section 155(3)(a) of the Constitution.
3. A further Order is made pursuant to the inherent powers of the Court under Section 155(3)(a) of the Constitution restraining the Defendants or their agents, servants and the instrumentalities of the State from implementing, discussing, debating or giving effect to the recommendations in the Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance pending the determination of the leave application or the substantive judicial review.
4. A further Order pursuant to the inherent powers of the Court under Section 155(3)(a) of the Constitution that the contents of the Final Report including the adverse findings and recommendations are restrained from being published or communicated by all print, electronic and broadcast media outlets in any form or manner pending the determination of the leave and or substantive judicial review.
5. The matter returns to the Deputy Registrar, Civil in Waigani to be placed before the Judicial Review Court.
PLEASE TAKE NOTE THAT THIS ORDER RELATES TO THE CONTENTS AND FINDINGS OF THE FINANCE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY AND DOES NOT RELATE TO ALL THE NEW PAYMENTS MADE THE SUBJECT OF THE QUESTIONS WHICH WERE GAGGED BY THE SPEAKER.
IT IS A FICTITIOUS ORDER THAT DOES NOT RELATE TO THE RECENT PAYMENTS. THIS COURT ORDER HAS BEEN THE SECRECY CURTAIN WHERE PAUL PARAKA COMMITTED SOME OF THE MOST HORRENDOUS CRIMES AGAINST THE STATE WITH THE FULL KNOWLEDGE OF THOSE IN POWER.
WHO IS THE STUPID PERSON HERE, MY SPEAKER?
WHO IS THE STUPID HERE, MEDIA ORGANISATIONS?
ARE YOU ALL SO CLUMSY THAT YOU CANNOT READ THE ORDER AND ITS CONTENTS AND UNDERSTAND HOW AND WHAT IT MEANS? OR ARE YOUR LAWYERS CLUMSY?
Are you guys telling PNG that someone can be well protected to continue to steal millions, now running into billions???????????
ACT OF COLLUSION OR CONNIVANCE, BOTH OF WHICH IS CORRUPTION.
If you have time, download it here http://pngexposed.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/order.pdf and read it for yourself.
WE cannot say, with any sigh of relief, “at long last” because the invoking of 457 by Minister Carr to render Wartoto a fugitive playing hide and seek between Australia and PNG doesn’t at all mean there aren’t other similar scoundrels enjoying the fruits of their corrupt lifestyle still in Australia; or that others will not emerge and hide under the cover of 457 in the future.
WE cannot also say, with any sense of satisfaction, “it’s about time” because Wartoto and his associates had the luxury of time to further their interests afield such as in the Asian and Pacific countries mentioned.
Crime boss?? Is this reference about how he must have followers and associates in a crime syndicate of which he is the nominal or real main man? Or is it a reference to how much he has obtained and amassed from the national coffers and how he has evaded and fooled authorities with his errands between PNG and Australia. Wartoto must have associates and we have read in the past that the Member for Pomio as Minister for National Planning was a close and beneficial associate from projects for which tenders were corruptly awarded or approved. Kerevat National High School comes to mind. And the advance of some K30 million (?) to start up the Wartoto airline (Mangki Ples???) is another in which Member for Pomio had both his hands in.
Now, in more recent times, the present Minister for Foreign Affair’s has been mentioned in the print media, by name. Why should, or how would, any decision on Wartoto’s 457 status be linked to the Manus detention centre? Many PNGn’s cannot buy the argument that the inevitable was delayed “because of the Gillard government’s desire not to upset PNG government members who support the Manus Island asylum seeker detention centre.” The fact is Wartoto is not from Manus and does not own any of the land where the detention centre is on Manus. THE only reason for the delay or reprieve for Wartoto by Australia may be because of his links to and with Minister Pato. Wartoto was thrown in as a red herring by linking him to the negotiations on the Manus site.
It’d be interesting to find out if during his business adventure to fill the yawning gap in Australia for corporate managers whether Mr Wartoto has not short-changed customers/clients or left bad debts with other businesses in Cairns.
If Mr Wartoto is or was ”a risk to the health, safety or good order of the Australian community” what are we supposed to make of him in PNG? May be, a menace like a bull let loose by politicians in a candy shop that has no regard to anybody or anything, causing untold damage to the reputation of the country, his family and the community he comes from in ENB!
Just watch Rimbink Pato’s next act.
By Nick McKenzie, Richard Baker in The Age
Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr has used his special powers to cancel the 457 visa issued by the Gillard government to an alleged crime boss wanted in Papua New Guinea over the theft of $30 million.
Senator Carr’s decision to revoke the visa of Eremas Wartoto comes a week after Fairfax revealed that the powerful PNG businessman – accused of being one of PNG’s most corrupt figures by anti-graft authorities – was using his 457 visa to avoid arrest and prosecution. Sources in PNG confirmed that Mr Wartoto and his immediate family members in Queensland were contacted by immigration authorities late this week and told that the federal government was cancelling their visas.
Mr Wartoto’s visa has been cancelled by Senator Carr using laws that allow the Foreign Minister to revoke a 457 on the basis that the holder poses ”a risk to the health, safety or good order of the Australian community”.
But some senior government sources in PNG are furious that the Gillard government did not act sooner to expel Mr Wartoto, who has been living in Australia since he was charged in absentia in August 2011 with serious corruption offences.
The visa allowed Mr Wartoto to live in Cairns and fly in and out of Australia to several Asian countries despite being the most wanted man in PNG.
Mr Wartoto fled Australia to PNG last week after Fairfax tried to photograph him in Queensland. He remained on the run in PNG until Friday, when anti-corruption investigators tracked him to the port town of Kimbe and arrested him.
Mr Wartoto obtained a 457 visa in July 2011 – the foreign skilled worker visa at the centre of a Gillard government crackdown – after learning PNG authorities planned to charge him in August 2011.
Since then he has claimed to be too ill to face trial in Port Moresby but travel records reveal he has travelled to Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Fiji and the Solomon Islands during the past two years and has been able to return to live in Australia each time thanks to his 457 visa.
A spokesman for Senator Carr said: ”Given the legal issues … it was not possible to take action until now.”
PNG government sources have suggested Mr Wartoto’s visa was not cancelled earlier because of the Gillard government’s desire not to upset PNG government members who support the Manus Island asylum seeker detention centre.
Mr Wartoto is linked to powerful PNG politicians, including Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato.
Mr Wartoto obtained his 457 visa after a Cairns car hire company he owns sponsored him on the basis there was a shortage of ”general corporate managers” in the area.
BY CLEO FRASER from AAP
A PAPUA New Guinea businessman accused of misusing millions of dollars of government funds in his home country still holds a 457 visa and is free to return to Australia.
Eremas Wartoto came to live in Cairns in 2011 after he was granted the temporary permit.
He reportedly obtained the visa, a type which is at the centre of a federal government crackdown over claimed rorting of the system, for a car hire company he owns because there was a shortage of general corporate managers in the area.
It is understood he left Australia last week after media reports that he was wanted in PNG.
Following a request by the PNG National Court, a Queensland judge ordered the seizure of some of his Australian assets earlier this week.
They included several rental properties, vehicles at a car rental agency of which Wartoto is the director and a number of bank accounts.
PNG Director of Crimes Peter Guiness told AAP that Wartoto has been charged with misappropriation of funds.
He was granted permission to return to Australia to undergo medical treatment last year, he says.
Wartoto allegedly misused government funds totalling 30 million kina (A$13.6 million), Mr Guiness said.
He was given the funds for a school development and as a subsidy to help start an airline.
He said PNG police were not looking for Wartoto as he was granted bail and is not due to appear in court until later this year.
He didn’t know whether Wartoto was back in PNG or in Australia.
A Department of Immigration spokesman says Wartoto still holds a valid 457 visa.
“The client has met the conditions of the visa since it was granted in 2011,” he told AAP.
“The fact that he may be wanted by PNG is a matter for the PNG government and any request for assistance from Australia would be a matter for the relevant authorities.”
A spokesman for Foreign Minister Bob Carr said foreign affairs staff in Canberra had discussed Mr Wartoto’s case with officials from the Immigration Department. He would not comment further.
An employee at Wartoto’s car rental firm in Cairns, which is still operating, says he hasn’t seen his boss for a few weeks.
He described Wartoto as a “very nice man” who owns “a lot” of businesses in PNG.
PNG’s The National newspaper reported in December last year that Wartoto had made a PNG corruption task force watch list.
By Sarah Elks and Rowan Callick in The Australian
AUSTRALIAN Federal Police have seized the north Queensland properties of one of Papua New Guinea’s most wanted men, Eremas Wartoto, who had gone to ground in Australia after fleeing here on a 457 visa.
Fugitive businessman Mr Wartoto was committed to trial in PNG in October for allegedly misappropriating $5 million in government funds.
The AFP said he flew from Cairns to Port Moresby last Thursday and that local police there had been unable to find him. But last night, PNG police chief superintendent Peter Guiness said “my information is that he is still in Australia”.
Mr Wartoto was living in Cairns where he ran a rental car business since being granted the visa in 2011.
Brisbane District Court judge Douglas McGill yesterday ordered five properties, four bank accounts and dozens of cars owned by Mr Wartoto be seized, granting an application by the AFP. AFP lawyer Ben Moses told the court Mr Wartoto was wanted for fraud offences in PNG and it was alleged some of the offending conduct occurred in Queensland.
Mr Wartoto was not represented yesterday, but last week he defended himself against the charges in a sworn affidavit registered in Port Moresby.
He claimed “the value of the properties frozen by the restraining orders are more than $5.5m, that is, in excess of the amount I had allegedly misappropriated”.
His PNG solicitor, Justin Haiara of Steeles Lawyers, said “the process has been abused by police in PNG, and the AFP should not buy into such abusive behaviour”. He said Mr Wartoto had not been tried and some of the funds allegedly stolen were “pursuant to a valid contract (with the PNG state) which has never been terminated”.
An Immigration Department spokeswoman yesterday confirmed Mr Wartoto was granted a 457 visa in 2011. She said he met all of the conditions and was sponsored by an employer.
Additional Reporting: Rosanne Barrett