PNG politicians and company execs could now be tried for land grabs in the International Criminal Court
“The ICC announcement in The Hague is critical first step in the crackdown on violence and theft in the global trade in land and natural resources”
Source: Global Witness
A move by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to expand its focus signals a landmark shift in international criminal justice and could reshape how business is done in developing countries, says Global Witness. Company executives, politicians and other individuals could now be held criminally responsible under international law for crimes linked to land grabbing and environmental destruction.
Global Witness has been campaigning for the ICC to investigate crimes committed amid the global rush for land and natural resources, which has seen an area the size of Germany leased to investors in developing countries since 2000. This has led to millions of people being evicted from their land – illegally and often violently – in countries that lack functioning national courts.
At its worst, this violence is fatal. According to Global Witness data, in 2015 more than three people were murdered a week defending their land from theft and destructive industries – the deadliest year on record. Conflicts over mining were the number one cause of killings, followed by agribusiness, hydroelectric dams and logging.
“Chasing communities off their land and trashing the environment has become an accepted way of doing business in many resource-rich yet cash-poor countries,” said Gillian Caldwell, Executive Director at Global Witness.
“The decision by the ICC shows that the age of impunity is coming to an end. Company bosses and politicians complicit in violently seizing land, razing tropical forests or poisoning water sources could soon find themselves standing trial in the Hague alongside war criminals and dictators. The ICC’s interest could help improve the lives of millions of people and protect critical ecosystems.”
In its 14-year history the ICC has focused almost exclusively on crimes committed during armed conflict, whether crimes against humanity or war crimes. This has left a significant blind spot in the Court’s approach – it was not investigating mass atrocities committed in the name of profit that occur during peacetime.
The Court’s Prosecutor, Fatou B. Bensouda, has acknowledged this hole in its focus, adding to its priority list the investigation of crimes that result in the illegal dispossession of land, the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the destruction of the environment. The move comes ahead of a decision by the Prosecutor whether to investigate a case filed in 2014 that catalogues mass human rights abuses linked to systematic land seizures in Cambodia, where business leaders have been working hand-in-glove with the country’s kleptocratic government.
This change to ICC policy is a critical first step in addressing the legal vacuum that is helping drive violence and theft in the global trade in land. Across much of Africa, Asia and Latin America, rural communities lack legal rights to land, despite having relied upon it for generations. In major consumer blocs like the EU and the US, traders or investors are under no legal obligation to check that products like palm oil, rubber or gold were legally or ethically sourced.
In an effort to bring an end to the secrecy and impunity that pervade the land sector, Global Witness is campaigning for new EU laws to prevent European investors from financing land grabs abroad, as well as for international regulations to ensure that companies are legally obliged to respect land rights wherever they operate.
“The ICC announcement sends a powerful message that the terrible impacts of land grabbing and environmental destruction have been acknowledged at the highest level of criminal justice,” said Gillian Caldwell.
“National governments and legislators should now follow suit. Land rights must be strengthened in countries that sell land, and respected by the companies that invest in it. A far stronger legal architecture is required internationally to bring an end to the human suffering and environmental cost of the global trade in land.”
Notes to editors:
(1) At least 38.9 million hectares of land has been leased to companies or put under negotiation since 2000. See the Land Matrix Project (as of March 2016) http://www.landmatrix.org/en/
(2) Global Witness (June 2016) On Dangerous Ground,https://www.globalwitness.org/en/reports/dangerous-ground
(3) This case will be a key test for the ICC’s new policy. If accepted, this would be the first case in international criminal law where the primary allegations relate to the illegal exploitation of land. Corporate actors in Cambodia could be the prime targets for investigation – they have been complicit in a widespread and systematic campaign of illegal land seizures, leading to the forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians with the help of the state police, military and judiciary. The case was filed at the ICC by international human rights lawyer Richard J Rogers, of the law firm Global Diligence LLP, relying on evidence collected by Cambodian and international organisations, including Global Witness.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has completely failed to reverse the huge SABL land grab.
So much for all his promises to revoke the unlawful leases, return the land to rural people and stop the illegal logging!
It is now 1,176 days since the reports of the SABL Commission Inquiry which detail the widespread fraud and mismanagement that has allowed foreign logging companies to gain illegal access to over 5 million hectares of land.
Since June 2013, more than three years ago, O’Neill has REPEATEDLY promised us the leases will be canceled and illegal logging stopped.
In September 2013 O’Neill said in Parliament:
“We will no longer watch on as foreign owned companies come in and con our landowners, chop down our forests and then take the proceeds offshore”
In June 2014, announcing an NEC decision supposedly cancelling the leases, O’Neill said
“We are taking these steps to reclaim our customary land illegally lost to foreigners with the help of corrupt public servants and leaders”
“As a responsible government we want to ensure that all citizens have access to the lands of their ancestors. We will not allow our land to be lost to unscrupulous people out to con our people”
In 2015 the Chief Secretary stated:
“It is widely known that vast amounts of pristine forest have been logged to enrich a corrupt few people, while landowners have unknowingly lost their most valuable asset – their land”.
But, despite all the promises, no action has been taken to cancel the leases, landowners are receiving no support from the government in their battles against the land grabbing and WE ARE STILL WAITING for the logging to be stopped.
For 1,176 days O’Neill has failed to ensure the SABL leases are revoked and has been complicit in the illegal logging of our forests by foreign logging companies.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has aided and abetted the theft of logs worth hundreds of million of kina and the destruction of thousands of hectares of pristine forest.
American Thomas Doehrman and his Singaporean wife, Lim Ai Wah, have been sentenced to jail in Singapore for a corruption scam involving funds provided by the PNG government, but the couple have other links to PNG, including through two locally registered companies, ITE Ventures Limited and Quest Investments Limited.
Doehrman and his wife Lim are listed by the IPA as the sole owners of Quest Investments Limited and Doehrman is a director of ITE Ventures. Both Michael Somare and Greg Sheppard are also listed as directors of ITE Ventures alongside Doehrman, and Sheppard is also listed as a director of Quest Investments.
According to the Singapore court case, in 2010, Doehrman was one of three trustees of the Inclusive Education for National Development for Community Education (ITE) Trust in PNG. The trust was established by the government of Michael Somare to set up community colleges.
In June 2010, the trust hired the Chinese ZTE Corporation to supply telecom equipment in a contract valued at US$35 million. ZTE then named Questzone Offshore, a shell company set up in the British Virgin Islands by Doehrman and Lim, as a sub contractor. ZTE paid $3.6 million to Questzone in July 2010 based on false invoice for purported services that were never delivered.
The Singapore authorities say from the $3.6 falsely paid to Questzone, Michael Somare received $784,000. According to the Singaporean’s that money was the proceeds of a criminal enterprise. The money was paid to Somare via three cheques deposited into his Singapore Standard Chartered Bank account in August, September, and November 2010.
Lim was a director of the BIV registered Questzone Offshore and Doehrman a director of Quest Petroleum (Singapore).
What has not been exposed in the Singapore court case is Doehrman and Lim’s interests in the two PNG registered companies, Quest Investments and ITE Ventures.
ITE Ventures Limited has a very similar name to the ITE Trust. It has three listed directors, Thomas Doehrman, Michael Somare and Gregory James Sheppard (who is also the company secretary). According to the Investment Promotion Authority, ITE Ventures is wholly owned by the ITE Trust.
Then there is Quest Investment, another PNG registered company. According to the IPA, this company is solely owned by Doehrman and Wah. Like ITE Ventures, Quest has three directors, in this case, Thomas Doehrman, Lim Ai Wah and Gregory James Sheppard.
Neither PNG company has been mentioned in the media in relation to the Singapore case and there is no suggestion at this time that either company has been involved in any criminal activity or other wrongdoing.
The Prime Minister has recently called for an investigation into the National Housing Corporation, owing to allegations of misconduct and mismanagement.
It must be asked, why? The NHC has already been investigated, numerous times. On each occasion it was found to be systemically corrupt.
No serious reform has been implemented of the NHC. A report by the the National Research Institute explains why:
‘Political leaders, bureaucrats and their associates … have plundered that [NHC] organization of its assets and resources. It has been used as a cash cow for politicians, cronies and officials over the years at the expense of ordinary Papua New Guineans where their rights to affordable shelter have been abused through such dealings’.
Actually worse than simply failing to reform the NHC, the O’Neill government has set up an even more pernicious, alternative housing body. In response to NHC mismanagement in 2012 the government transfered all the corporation’s properties to a shadowy new organisation, the National Housing Estate Limited.
In December 2012 the Post-Courier reported:
‘NHEL has acquired more than 50 prime properties formerly owned by NHC in Port Moresby alone and will purchase 500 more throughout the country with more acquisitions to follow in the New Year’.
The paper added:
‘the Government has earmarked K200 million from the K6 billion from the Exim Bank of China for NHEL to purchase existing NHC properties in Port Moresby and other provincial centres’.
Has this improved the situation? Nope.
NHEL is in effect a private company, albeit with Ministerial shareholders, which steadfastly refuses to open its books to the Auditor General’s Office, assuming any are kept.
Nor will it open up its books to the Investment Promotion Authority, as required under law. The last annual return submitted by NHEL to the Investment Promotion Authority covered 2009. Nothing has been submitted since. This is a violation of the Companies Act 1997.
If the O’Neill government’s plan to tackle NHC corruption in 2012, was to transfer its assets to an opaque, obstinate corporate vehicle, one can only shudder to think what its next plan will consist of…
Couple jailed in US$3.6m money laundering case involving ex-Papua New Guinea PM
Lim Ai Wah and her husband Thomas Doehrman were jailed for laundering US$3.6 million which had been meant to set up community colleges in Papua New Guinea.
Amir Hussain – Straits Times
A married couple laundered US$3.6 million which had been meant to set up community colleges in Papua New Guinea – then gave US$784,000 of it to the country’s then Prime Minister.
Singaporean Lim Ai Wah, 61, was given five years’ jail on Thursday (Sept 1), while her 68-year-old American husband Thomas Doehrman got five years and 10 months.
They were each found guilty on one count of falsification of accounts and five charges of transferring the benefits of criminal conduct.
Doehrman had been the trustee of a fund set up by the PNG government to set up community colleges in the country.
In June 2010 the trust hired ZTE Corporation for US$35 million to supply telecom equipment for the project and the couple conspired with a ZTE employee, Li Weiming, 34, for the company to pay a secret “commission” to them.
To conceal the true nature of the payment, Doehrman and Lim acquired a British Virgin Islands shell company, Questzone Offshore, and signed a fictitious US$3.6 million contract with ZTE.
No services were provided, but a Questzone invoice was created.
Doehrman and Lim gave Li, a Chinese national, US$850,000 via two transactions to his wife’s Hong Kong bank account. They gave Sir Michael three cheques worth a total of USD$784,000 in late 2010, all of which were paid into his Singapore bank account.
The rest of the money was kept in Questzone’s bank account.
The court was not told how the couple were caught, but heard that US$950,000 was meant for the couple and US$1million was supposedly set aside for bribes.
In their police statements, Lim and Doehrman said bribes had to be paid to the then-PM Sir Michael in order to get business from PNG.
Urging District Judge Ng Peng Hong to impose stiff sentences, Deputy Public Prosecutor Alan Loh said the fact that some of the laundered money was traced to then PNG prime minister Sir Michael Somare’s bank account in Singapore will cause public disquiet.
“The sentences imposed on Doehrman and Lim must reflect the seriousness of the present offences which include illicit payments made to a foreign prime minister.
“This is a very significant case in Singapore’s fight against corruption and money laundering”.
He added: “Singapore should not be seen as a haven for slush funds to pass through to the hands of errant or greedy politicians. A strong deterrent message must be sent to safe-guard Singapore’s position as a clean and corrupt free environment for business transactions.”
Li was also charged with one count of falsification of accounts, but he later jumped bail.
The Questzone bank account and Sir Michael’s Singapore bank account with US$301,000 left in it have been frozen.
Lim and Doehrman intend to appeal against their convictions and sentences.