Rimbunan Hijau may be heavily embroiled in illegal logging, tax dodging and financial misreporting, the SABL land grab and human rights abuses, but none of that bothers Justin Tkatchenko (who of course has his own long history of fraud allegations)…
Rimbunan Hijau opens newest hotel, suite
BY MIRIAM ZARRIGA in THE NATIONAL (also owned by tax dodging RH)
THE newest hotel and suite in the city is to be opened in September of this year. Stanley Hotel and suite is a massive investment by the Rimbunan Hijau Company which will see 95 per cent employment of nationals in the hotel and tourism industry. In an inspection on Friday afternoon, Minister responsible for National Events and APEC, Justin Tkatchenko visited the hotel to see for himself what has been done so far. The 18-level hotel contains 433 rooms and serviced apartment complexes, including the presidential suite. The hotel’s executive assistant manager Robert Schlenther said that the running of the hotel depends on the flexibility of its operations, in allowing visitors to be able to receive service without too much of a hassle. Mr Tkatchenko was equally impressed and said that the challenge was to maintain the hotel’s quality service and rooms for years to come. He added that the inspection reinforced the wow factor awaiting the delegates of the APEC summit and other delegates attending the FIFA World Cup this year and the World Cup next year. The standard and deluxe rooms offer all the amenities expected in a first class hotel, with the executive rooms accessible to the exclusive club lounge. The one or two bedroom apartments are the ideal place to call home with fully equipped kitchens. The hotel offers a restaurant, lounge, café, gym, pool, and spa with its ballroom able to seat from 10 to 1000 people.
Another low point came yesterday when another Papua New Guinean journalist was threatened by senior members of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary for maintaining contact with the suspended head of the Police Fraud Squad, Matthew Damaru.
The seasoned journalist working for a daily newspaper was threatened with arrest simply for doing his job and doing what is a fundamental part of his job – maintaining contact with an important source.
It is infuriating that we, as a country have allowed arms of government to stoop low to threaten those whose job it is to speak out for those who are unable.
It should be noted that over the last decade, there have been several attacks on journalists in PNG. Violent physical attacks affecting their families as well an legal intimidation by people who hold positions of power.
While the arrest did not eventuate, the fact that a threat was issued has struck at the heart of constitutional rights of freedom of the media and freedom of speech.
A free media able to challenge a government and those in positions of power and to hold them to account is vital for a vibrant democracy to thrive and to ride out political and economic turbulence a country many be going through.
A people cannot be silenced. The act to silence the masses by silencing the media is – as history has shown – always unsustainable and always short lived.
While Papua New Guineans have not protested violently, it does not mean a dissenting voice cannot be heard.
Silencing a journalist is so old school and reeks of 70s and 80s Latin American military dictatorships.
It is what is done by 21st century, Asian regimes that attempt to stifle and control public opinion in the age social media. It simply does not work.
In most countries when a powerful national figure confesses to their crimes, expresses remorse, and offers to pay back the stolen money, it is often considered a fairly clear sign they are guilty.
Not in our country.
PNG Exposed reported yesterday that Jimmy Maladina’s conviction for misappropriation was recently quashed by the Supreme Court.
Yet it has gone unnoted in the media coverage, that Maladina actually confessed to the crime during the earlier National Court trial.
This was confirmed when the National Court passed sentence:
“The accused admitted freely that he had committed the offence. He stated that he is sorry for what he did. He further apologises and is remorseful especially to the contributors of NPF for what he had done that deprived them of their benefits which was to be enjoyed with their families and to his family for the sufferings, shame that he has brought on them for the last 17 years. He is making arrangements and is willing to repay the money owed back to the state”.
It was also noted in yesterday’s blog that Maladina had never been successfully prosecuted for his role in separate fraud involving Iori Veraga. In that instance Veraga was sentenced to six years hard labour, while the alleged mastermind behind the operation Jimmy Maladina escaped the charges.
Clearly Jimmy is a lucky fellow.
But the question remains why would Maladina confess to a crime, and then petition a higher court to quash the conviction?
A possible answer is provided by the Australian commentator Susan Merrell, who is a close ally of the PM’s clique. She remarked in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision: ‘So, if Jimmy Maladina is innocent of misappropriation and the accusation against the Prime Minister is that he received monies from Maladina that Maladina had misappropriated in this matter, (NPF) then it stands to reason that this exonerates the Prime Minister of any accusations of impropriety’.
So, perhaps this appeal was less about Jimmy Maladina and more about Prime Minister O’Neill.
Those familiar with elite business circles know Jimmy Maladina and Peter O’Neill were for a significant period married at the hip in their affairs. As a result, when those involved in Maladina’s schemes were successfully convicted in two separate criminal prosecutions, a certain bad smell clung to the PM, especially given that O’Neill featured heavily in the NPF inquiry findings (but don’t expect to find a copy of the NPF inquiry report anywhere, conveniently it was never made public!).
Indeed, when Jimmy Maladina fled to Australia in 1999/2000, he informed the Australian courts that he ‘was fearful of violence at the hands of persons who suspected that he might be in a position to make serious allegations against them’. It was never specified who these ‘persons’ were.
This Supreme Court decision it would seem is just as beneficial for the PM as it is for Maladina, at least if we follow the perverted logic of the PM’s cheer squad.
Sadly, all of this comes as public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary is dropping.
It is increasingly apparent that the judiciary is not immune to the disease of corruption – in fact there is a growing body of evidence and inside information that some judges are accepting bribes, to return favorable judgements. Of course, no one has suggested, despite the strange occurrences noted above, that either Mr Maladina or Mr O’Neill bribed/pressured the judiciary.
Yet the growing inconsistent and at times illogical decisions being delivered by the courts, will fuel speculation and concern.
The Supreme Court it appears has quashed Jimmy Maladina’s conviction for misappropriation, which emerged out of the National Provident Fund inquiry. We are told Maladina is away on business, but will hold a press conference shortly.
No doubt Mr Maladina will claim full vindication, and protest his innocence. But don’t get the tissues out just yet for Jimmy. In fact spare a thought for one of his conspirators, who does not appear to have the same luck as Jimmy Maladina when it comes to the courts.
Iori Veraga was found guilty of misappropriation and conspiracy in 2005, for his part in the fraud Maladina is alleged to have masterminded. According to the National Court Mr Veraga was a registered valuer, who was recruited by Jimmy Maladina to provide services to the National Provident Fund at a grossly inflated price. The proceeds of the scam were then shared between the two.
The court accepted:
‘the State evidence, once again confirmed by the accused’s own evidence that 50% of the proceeds of each of these cheques went to Maladina as his share of the fees as agreed between them’.
The National Court also claimed it was:
‘satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that before Maladina’s meeting with the accused, there had been an agreement with … [NPF executives] Herman Leahy and Henry Fabila about this criminal enterprise. These two officers were to be the conduits for the successful prosecution of the conspiratorial agreement. The events which took place throughout the entire affair did not, in my opinion, take place by accident. There was here the hallmark of preconcert. These events occurred pursuant to a pre-existing, antecedent, agreement’.
‘The conspiracy also depended on the accused performing his part by over-pricing or exaggerating the values of the two properties and charging excessive fees to be shared with Jimmy Maladina. The fees had to be large enough to be worth sharing. Messrs Leahy and Fabila were important elements, conduits, in the conspiracy. They were in the position to ensure secrecy, non-compliance with tendering requirements, keep the [NPF] Board in the dark, and ensure further that the fees quoted were accepted, thus committing the Fund to paying them, and paying them quickly.’
The National Court, therefore, concluded:
‘the funds [misappropriated by Veraga and Maladina] were the funds of the NPF. They remained the property of the Fund because neither the accused nor Jimmy Maladina had any legitimate claim over them. Thus, the sharing of the fees between the accused and Jimmy Maladina constituted the dishonest application to his own use and to the use of another person, property belonging to another as defined [by the Criminal Code].’
Veraga was sentenced to six years hard labour. Curiously Maladina – the alleged mastermind – was never successfully prosecuted for this crime.
Instead his recently quashed conviction related to yet another act of misappropriation against the National Provident Fund.
So when you hear Jimmy Maladina waltz around the media claiming he is the true victim in all this, spare a thought for his partner in crime, Mr Veraga, who spent six years inside for a crime Mr Maladina was allegedly the primary author of.