Home > Corruption, Papua New Guinea > Australia ignored PNG request to bar fraudster

Australia ignored PNG request to bar fraudster

By Richard Baker, Nick McKenzie in the Brisbane Times

Australia allowed one of Papua New Guinea’s most wanted men to enter the country on a 457 visa despite a PNG government request he be barred, diplomatic cables reveal.

The decision to allow accused fraudster Eremas Wartoto to stay in Australia and avoid prosecution prompted Australia’s High Commissioner in Port Moresby, Deborah Stokes, to declare the case could be used to ”prove that Australia is a haven for the proceeds of crime from PNG”.

The PNG government’s request to ”bar businessman from travelling to Australia” was documented in a cable sent by the Australian High Commission to Canberra on August 24, 2011.

At that time, Mr Wartoto, a politically connected businessman, had been arrested in PNG as part of a fraud inquiry into misappropriation of taxpayer funds involving allegedly corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.

Despite the PNG request, Mr Wartoto – who is being represented by a law firm owned by PNG’s foreign minister – was granted entry to Australia on a 457 visa in September 2011. His skilled worker visa was issued after the Cairns car hire company he owns sponsored him on the basis there was a shortage of ”general corporate managers” in the area.

However, despite knowing he was residing in Australia to avoid prosecution, the federal government made no effort to force Mr Wartoto to return to PNG to face charges.

Fairfax Media revealed in May Mr Wartoto had been able to use his visa to return to Australia after regular trips around Asia. He made these trips despite his lawyers lodging medical certificates in PNG’s National Court stating he was too ill to return home.

Frustrated anti-corruption investigators and police in PNG believe Mr Wartoto’s case is a prime example of Australia failing to act on suspected corrupt politicians, officials and businessmen using Australian banks and real estate markets to hide ill-gotten gains.

The May revelation that Mr Wartoto was being sheltered in Cairns was embarrassing for the Labor government, which was negotiating the settlement of asylum seekers with PNG on Manus Island and had launched a crackdown on foreign workers using 457 visas in the belief they were taking jobs from Australians.

Shortly after Fairfax Media revealed Mr Wartoto’s presence in Australia, Senator Carr cancelled Mr Wartoto’s visa using laws that allow the foreign minister to revoke visas belonging to people deemed to pose ”a risk to the health, safety or good order of the Australian community”.

Much of the information in declassified diplomatic cables obtained by Fairfax Media under Freedom of Information laws has been redacted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the basis Australia’s international relations could be harmed.

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