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
By Sarah Elks in The Australian
AUSTRALIAN authorities have seized north Queensland properties owned by one of Papua New Guinea’s most wanted men.
Queensland District Court judge Douglas McGill SC today granted an application by the Australian Federal Police for custody and control orders over five properties, four bank accounts and dozens of cars controlled by businessman Eremas Wartoto.
Mr Wartoto ran an airline in PNG but has been living in Cairns since 2011 when he was accused of misappropriating more than $30m from the PNG government.
It has been reported Mr Wartoto had been living in Australia on a 457 visa.
Today, the court heard Mr Wartoto flew back to PNG from Cairns last week, but has so far managed to evade capture by local police.
Judge McGill agreed to issue the new orders to reinforce property restraining orders filed last month. He said there was a risk that Mr Eremas may try to sell the properties, but this would keep them “out of (his) hands”.
The court heard Mr Eremas owned several rental properties in Cairns and controlled a car rental business in the far north Queensland city.
The AFP alleges Mr Eremas faxed some documents from Queensland to PNG to help him commit the alleged fraud against the PNG government, which is why Australian authorities can restrain some of his assets.
Mr Eremas was not represented in court but lawyer Ben Moses, for the AFP, said his solicitors had been informed of the situation.
By Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker – The Age
An alleged crime boss wanted in Papua New Guinea over the theft of $30 million has used a 457 visa issued by the Australian government to avoid arrest and prosecution.
Eremas Wartoto, accused of being one of PNG’s most corrupt figures by anti-graft authorities, has been living in Cairns since mid-2011.
He obtained a 457 visa, 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, Mr Wartoto has claimed to be too ill to face trial in Port Moresby over serious criminal charges laid against him in absentia two years ago.
But travel records obtained by Fairfax Media reveal that Mr Wartoto 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 because of his 457 visa.
Mr Wartoto returned to PNG on Wednesday after Fairfax Media made inquiries about why he was in Australia and tried to photograph him in Cairns.
But he continues to evade arrest, with authorities in PNG unable to find him since his return and fearing he plans to flee to Australia again.
”Having ignored this case for too long, Australia must cancel Wartoto’s visa immediately. It should have been cancelled many months ago,” a senior PNG government source said.
Mr Wartoto’s 457 visa was not rescinded – a move open to the Gillard government – after he was charged in 2011 or after a decision last month by a Brisbane district court judge to freeze Mr Wartoto’s Queensland assets under proceeds-of-crime legislation.
Mr Wartoto is linked to powerful PNG politicians, including Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato who controls the law firm representing him.
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.
The revelations about Mr Wartoto and his 457 visa come as Prime Minister Julia Gillard arrived in PNG on Thursday for a three-day visit, where she is reportedly expected to announce PNG citizens will be able to apply for Australian visas online and obtain multiple entry visas valid for five years.
Mr Wartoto is one of several allegedly corrupt PNG figures a Fairfax Media investigation has found to be using Australia as a refuge from anti-graft investigators or to invest millions of dollars in dirty money.
Commonwealth agencies responsible for tracking suspicious money flows into Australia have done little to freeze or reject these funds. The federal government has been accused by PNG anti-corruption sources and the federal opposition of ignoring the nation’s graft problem while Australia is providing nearly $500 million in aid.
The head of the PNG corruption taskforce, Sam Koim, recently called Australia ”the Cayman Islands” of the Pacific because of the tens of millions of dollars corruptly siphoned from PNG and invested here.
Fairfax Media has surveyed Queensland property records, revealing that PNG citizens, including several ministers, politicians and top bureaucrats, are among the largest investors in multimillion-dollar properties in the state’s north.
Records show more than 80 properties in the Cairns area have been bought by PNG investors since 2005, including four owned by Mr Wartoto and others by suspected corrupt senior politicians.
In Brisbane and the Gold Coast, at least 80 properties have been bought by PNG investors.
Another businessmen suspected of high-level corruption has siphoned $5 million in dirty funds to Queensland without fielding questions from Australian authorities or banks.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said Ms Gillard had to explain to PNG authorities during her visit what action the Australian government had taken to ensure Mr Wartoto returned to respond to the charges against him.
”It is vital for Papua New Guinea’s long-term economic growth that existing corruption is uncovered and safeguards put in place to minimise future instances of corruption,” Ms Bishop said.
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. But legal matters involving Mr Wartoto meant the nature of the talks could not be disclosed, he said.
Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said Ms Gillard should use her visit to PNG to pursue an agreement to allow financial intelligence to be better shared between the two countries.
”PNG is Australia’s closest neighbour and biggest recipient of our overseas aid,” Senator Rhiannon said.
”Australia can play an important role in identifying suspicious activity and working with PNG authorities to seize corrupt funds and extradite corrupt officials to PNG for judgment,” she said.
Engan businessman, Kandaso Napi, is a vocal supporter of reopening the Panguna mine on Bougainville but he has already illegally obtained millions of kina by exploiting the war sparked by the mine and the suffering of women and children….
The Daily Log (The National) and The Post-Courier are fond of publishing press-releases as news. Lately the Engan ‘self-made businessman’, Kandaso Napi, and his unadulterated views on Bougainville, have been getting heavy airplay in the national media (7 articles in the Post-Courier alone!!). Napi made his fortune leasing trucks to Bougainville Copper Limited – owned by Rio Tinto – during the 1980s.
Napi wants Rio Tinto to return to Bougainville and uplift its ‘impoverished’ population who are now, he claims, “living off the streets of Port Moresby or the jungles of Bougainville”.* The Post-Courier reports Napi “urged all stakeholders, landowners and government to meet, discuss and explore all avenues available that would lead to reopening the Panguna copper mine as soon as possible for the benefit of Bougainvillean men, women and children” – not, of course, for the benefit of Napi.
Referring to Rio Tinto’s role in war crimes, Napi argues,“it is better to work with the devil you know”. He adds in a recent statement to The National, “BCL or Rio Tinto … must not be squarely blamed for all the problems associated with the mine”.
What The Post-Courier and The National fail to note – why would they, after all journalism is not their business – is that Napi cashed in on the Bougainville war through a scandalous and illegal claim which was slammed by the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance.**
Tens of thousands of Bougainvilleans had their homes and livelihood destroyed by national government forces between 1988-1998 – many lost their loved ones too under the most brutal of circumstances. None of these Bougainvilleans have been compensated for their loss by the national government; even a US class action against Rio Tinto has been slapped down.
Things, however, have fared much better for the Engan businessman. If money talks, Napi it would appear, is the only true victim of the Bougainville conflict, that is according to the national government.
The Commission of Inquiry allege that Napi’s company Nakitu Ltd, claimed “a total of K13.1 million [from the PNG government], as the ‘projected’ loss suffered” from the Bougainville conflict.
The Commission of Inquiry observed, “there is no cause of action known at law to support such claim and to link the State and make the State liable for loss of business which the claimant claims as suffered”.
They continue, “Mr. Gelu, as the Solicitor General … essentially agreed that there was no cause of action, (see transcript of proceedings no. 81, pp2677-2678) but yet he proceeded to settle the claim”. Now why would Mr Gelu do that????
Before the NEC became aware of the illegal transaction, Napi successfully pocketed K3.25 million. Not bad!
So Napi cashes in on the suffering associated with the conflict through illegal means, while the actual victims of state atrocities, the people of Bougainville, have received a total of K0.00 in compensation.
And yet still the national press feels it is appropriate to publish ‘article’ (press-release) after ‘article’ (press-release) on Napi and his vision for the reopening of Panguna.
Now why would they do that???References * http://www.postcourier.com.pg/20130219/business.htm ** http://pngexposed.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/the-full-finance-department-commission-of-inquiry-report/
By LUCAS KIAP on PNG Blogs
The rest of the country has joined the bandwagon of the government and the opposition to declare war on crime in Papua New Guinea – in response to the recent surge in violent crimes across the country. Sadly, we have waited too long only to react after so many innocent and precious lives have been taken away prematurely by those who have no regard for human life nor understand their own existence in our human society. Nothing we say or do now will ever replace nor return those lives. Only time will tell if our (as usual) reactive measures by legislating and imposing tougher penalties will deter future offenders or not – the most server being the death penalty.
Before jumping on the bandwagon, there are critical and fundamental questions still remain and need to be asked and answered if we are to find a lasting solution but in reality that will be impossible. In countries such as the USA where the death penalty is applied, it never prevents offenders from committing such crimes. If such crimes can still be committed in a very powerful, rich, everyone literate, have access to information and have severe penalties, PNG must be prepared to take a extra step and dig deep to find a lasting solution. PNG is therefore having its share of a global problem that cannot be simply eradicated by imposing the most severe penalty – the death sentence. Instead, being the most responsible people, we all must be proactive in our approach to address the problem – that is to find and address the root causes first before being reactive to solve a very deep and complicated problem.
To find the root causes, one must prepared to ask the question – PNG is relatively a rich country in terms of natural resources with a small population and a large land mass but why it is poor struggling to address its escalating law and order problems? It is because of corruption, which, for the last 37 years, we have been letting it to grow systematic and systemic. It is now making our lives difficult, limiting our opportunities, making our systems malfunction, setting back our progresses, creating loopholes for our systems to be manipulated, distorting of our democratic values, depriving and denying us of our basic human rights and trapping millions of our citizens in poverty. Now we are starting to sow the seed we or our leaders have planted 37 years ago.
Remember that eighty-five percept of the population lives in rural areas and in settlements, where poverty is prevalent. Poverty is an ingredient of worst crimes. If we continue to fail to provide or neglect them the opportunities they need to live a better and meaningful life in our society, we are in fact widening the gap between the richer and the poorer. When that happens, what do we expect from the poor whom we have denied them equal opportunities – struggling to survive while we on the other hand enjoy what we have taken from them? Unfortunately, the victims are also the victims of corruption.
To conclude, to address the root cause of crime in the country, corruption must be equally treated as a worst crime against the State and her people. It has been and is still responsible for most of the social problems in the country which eventually leads to worst crimes. Therefore, whatever penalties applied to murders, rapists, drug edicts, and alcoholics, state criminals or white collar criminals whoever they are must also be treated in the same manner.
If we fail to address corruption now, it will return to haunt us when we least expect – in our cars, at our homes, at our work places or wherever we are, it will find us one day. To avoid what is eminent, let’s act now before we start jumping up and down again only to tear our country apart.
By Belden Namah MP via PNG Blog
I welcome Prime Minister Peter O’Neil’s decision to file a defamation suit against me. It is not surprising for Peter O’Neill to be reactive to issues that the Opposition has brought to light in recent times.
It is the traditional role of the Opposition to criticise, oppose, speculate and to even take pre-emptive measures on issues that concern the welfare of our people.
We are duty bound to keep the government and its leaders including the Prime Minister in check, so why is Mr O’Neill running to the courts when we are debating corruption at the National Government level?
I have as a leader tolerated wild, unfounded and even malicious allegations levelled against me in the media, yet, I have not sued the perpetrators or any media organisation for reporting such allegations. I have and will always respect media freedom and freedom of expression in this country and I expect Peter O’Neill and other leaders to do likewise.
My grave concern is that we now have a Prime Minister who is trying to control media freedom in our country. I ask the PM to leave media freedom to be practised without fear or favour in our democracy.
In this case the PM should leave EMTV alone. Let the media do its work and report without fear or favour.
The threat by the PM to cancel EMTV’s licence is an act of a dictator.
I want to appeal to all Papua New Guineans working in government organisations or state institutions that if you are threatened to facilitate corruption or have any information on corrupt practices, you must speak up. I am ready to receive and fight against corruption in this country including defending you against reprisal by government.
I call on the Ombudsman Commission and other watch dog organisations to do likewise and support whistle blowers for the good of our people, our country and our children’s future.
I am prepared to pay legal costs for EMTV journalist Scott Waide against the defamation suit by Peter O’Neil. And I guarantee the same for others who will speak out on the corruption of the PM, Ministers and other leaders.
Radio New Zealand
The outspoken Papua New Guinea MP Gary Juffa says to address the country’s chronic law and order problems requires a holistic approach.
The Governor of Oro Province, Mr Juffa says among the priorities for PNG should be to modernise the police force, replenish the prosecutorial offices and bolster the judiciary.
He says that as well as a large number of violent crimes that need investigating, there is a lot of white-collar crime which PNG must deal with.
Gary Juffa spoke to Johnny Blades about his ideas for addressing the law and order crisis.
JUFFA: “The police has not been developed and modernised over a period of years, I would say, since independence. If you look at the population of PNG as it is now, it’s between 7 million and 8 million. The population of PNG at independence was about 2.8 million thereabouts. The police staff ceiling was 4,000, 5,000 officers. That staff ceiling has not improved till now. It’s still 5,000 officers. You’ve got an ageing force, you’ve got a huge population. You’ve got an increase in the types of crimes. There’s complex violent crimes, there’s complex fraud and so forth, and the police are just unable to cope because they just do not have the resources, nor do they have the manpower, the numbers. Morale is down. They need to modernise and modify themselves to cope with the problems they face in today’s world.”
BLADES: “Is the O’Neill government doing anything about this, do you think? Significant moves?”
JUFFA: “I’m satisfied that they are making a significant move in that direction. They’ve just carried out a modernisation program and they are now in the process of trying to recruit more policemen. You have a recruitment program annually so that these numbers can be improved. They are trying to look at the ageing force and retiring a number of the upper echelon of the police so they can bring in new officers. They’re also looking at creating an independent commission against corruption, a new body that will have federal powers to investigate serious corruption in the country.”
BLADES: “Will this just follow on from Sam Koim’s team?”
JUFFA: “I think the intention is to give some more resources and definition to that taskforce. Sam Koim’s taskforce, which has been doing a tremendous job under very harsh conditions or restrictions, they’ve achieved a lot and I would support that bill.”
BLADES: “Do you think that taskforce is going to be able to see through some prosecution? Obviously they’re not doing the prosecution. Do you think it’ll come about, because there are going to be some high-level embarrassments?”
JUFFA: “What has happened here is while we have created the taskforce, we need to revamp the prosecution aspect. And that office is a malnourished office insofar as resources are concerned. The prosecution office needs to be completely overhauled. You need to bring in vibrant, very effective prosecutors, well-trained, with experience – I would even go as far as suggesting from overseas. Give them the resources, then they will be able to take what the taskforce is doing to another level and achieve some outcomes. But then you’d have to look at the judiciary as well, which is quite depleted of staff. There are not enough magistrates, there are not enough judges. The case turnover is very slow. These things have to be all addressed holistically.”
From Thomas Imal on Facebook
From reliable sources, the Forest Minister has sought legal advice from two Queens Counsel in Australia and he will be pushing to stop the Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Special Purpose Agriculture & Business Leases from being tabled and made public, on a number of legal grounds.
One of their main arguments for seeking to nullify the report is that the COI final report was not completed and tabled within the time set and there was no valid extension of time granted.
This is a similar situation with the NPF Inquiry, but the situation can be rectified by the government passing a short piece of legislation to validate the Report.
It will be interesting, as it unfolds and we have to make noise about it so the pollies know that we are watching…