PNG

PNG

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Where's Wartoto?

By SUSAN MERRELL

Business operations from stolen money, money needed for dire services.
Eremas Wartoto was committed to stand trial in the National courts on 2 October - in absentia.

The charges were relating to the Kerevat National High School where a company he owned was paid 7.9 million dollars by the state of Papua New Guinea to rehabilitate the school – work that was never carried out.

But wait…there's more.

Wartoto has outstanding allegations of defrauding the PNG government of 62 million kina according to a press release by Sam Koim of Task Force Sweep.  Koim lists some damning evidence relating to eight separate matters.

"Eremas Wartoto is still at large," is Koim's rejoinder and lament. That was in May.  

Five months later, Eremas Wartoto, although committed for trial, is still "at large."

Notwithstanding, many of Wartoto's alleged partners in crime have been arrested and charged – including former Minister of National Planning, Paul Tiensten  (whose matter was mentioned in court last week.)

And all this is in spite of an arrest warrant having been issued for Wartoto on 25 May 2012. So:

…why hasn't Wartoto been arrested?
…where's Wartoto?
…when will he face justice?
…who is responsible for Wartoto's prolonged freedom?
…what did he do (that's different to what others have done and gotten away with?)

Well, firstly, the arrest warrant and extradition order was 'set aside' by the courts. Wartoto had previously absconded to Cairns and the magistrate had been convinced that Wartoto should continue to enjoy his freedom in Australia – a curious decision given the current climate.

Charles Abel, the Minister for National Planning, expressed his concerns about cases being stalled at the judicial level to a meeting of the Consultative Implementation and Monitoring Council's (CIMC) Law and Order Committee last week.

"Some of these people are flying around enjoying their freedom," he told the meeting. Did Abel have Wartoto in his purview?

Abel wants a conviction "to send a clear message" to the corrupt.  Why are the PNG courts so reluctant to cooperate in a case where there is so much damning evidence?  

Wartoto remains, hidden in plain sight in Cairns. There he operates businesses – the most prominent, a car hire firm.  A couple of weekends ago this business was staffed by two members of the Wartoto family – Moseley and his sister Tracey.

With many PNGeans up in arms over the difficulty of obtaining an Australian visa from PNG, how has this fugitive and his family managed to relocate to Australia seemingly indefinitely?

Wartoto claims to be too sick to travel back to Papua New Guinea to face justice – notwithstanding that Taskforce Sweep has evidence that he has flown in and out of Australia on more than 10 occasions – but never to PNG. The car rental company owned by Wartoto carries the slogan 'Travel with us' – as long as that's not back to PNG to face justice it seems.

What Wartoto did had dire consequences and while it is easy to become apathetic to allegations of corruption in PNG (there are so many of them) to do so is to miss the real human tragedy.

Money that Wartoto is claimed to have stolen was earmarked to buy ferries for coastal communities.  Wartoto was paid, but never delivered.  The deaths that occurred when the MV Rabaul Queen sank in bad weather while overcrowded could have been averted if more ferries were operational.

Then there's the High School - closed for a year …and the hospital that was never built…and the non-existent plantations and the airline company.  All 62 million kina from government coffers and nothing to show except the fattened wallet of Eremas Wartoto and his continuing enjoyment of life in sunny Cairns.

In the battle against corruption – why are the likes of Wartoto winning?  Why does it continue to be so hard for the anti-corruption Task Force Sweep to do its job?