Duma on taskforce watchlist

PAPUA New Guinean Petroleum Minister William Duma has been named a “person of interest” to the country’s anti-corruption squad Task Force Sweep in an alarmist report by Australian television program Today Tonight.
Duma on taskforce watchlist Duma on taskforce watchlist Duma on taskforce watchlist Duma on taskforce watchlist Duma on taskforce watchlist

According to the show's first segment on PNG money laundering aired on Monday, the program obtained the names of 58 Papua New Guineans who were persons of interest as part of ongoing investigations into Queensland real estate purchases.

Duma was singled out with a photo of his reportedly $A585,000 home in Cairns splashed across Australian television screens.

The show also mentioned the "family of Sir Michael Somare" and already corruption-charged Travel Air entrepreneur Eremas Wartoto in regards to the people of interest.

Part of a phone-based conversation between Wartoto and the reporter was aired and the TV crew also made a visit to a Cairns home allegedly owned by Wartoto, questioning family members living there.

The program covered previously reported corruption claims against PNG lawyer Paul Paraka.

It also included the news from The National's report in May, which revealed that the Australian Federal Police believed about half a billion kina was being siphoned into Australian banks annually by PNG politicians and bureaucrats.

It also reported the estimate that half of PNG's budget per year could be lost to corruption as a fact.

Task Force Sweep head Sam Koim was interviewed and blamed Australian banks for turning a "blind eye" to accepting suspicious transactions from PNG - a claim since countered by statements from ANZ and National Australia Bank.

The segment ended with comments from Griffith University anti-money laundering expert Professor Jason Sharman, who dramatically warned of the risk that corruption might make PNG collapse and consequently create a refugee problem for Australia.

"Rather than PNG being a refuge solution it will be a massive refugee problem," Sharman said in reference to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's PNG solution for asylum seekers.

The show's second segment on the topic aired last night, covering the previously reported issue of a $45 million money transfer in 2009 from PNG government-owned Motor Vehicle Insurance to a Commonwealth Bank account for "Woodlawn Capital" in Lismore, New South Wales.

Claims on this issue previously centred on the involvement of Arthur Somare, who was public enterprises minister at the time.

Somare was interviewed by the program and said he wasn't informed of the money transfer. He blamed the transfer on a failure of due diligence in Australia.

The show did not mention that Task Force Sweep is yet to land a conviction and did not investigate claims made earlier this year that it was significantly under-staffed.

Australian responses to the reports

Of the various statements challenging the allegations raised, a spokesperson for the Australian Attorney General's Department reportedly said the Australian government rejected the assertion made by Koim, including that Australia was "the Cayman Islands of the Pacific with respect to money laundering".

"Australia has a robust framework to deter and detect money laundering and to ensure that Australia is not a safe haven for the proceeds of corruption," the spokesperson reportedly said.

"Banks and other regulated businesses are required to have appropriate controls to counter the money-laundering risk posed by corrupt foreign officials and politicians."

On the issue of the AFP's estimates of the amount siphoned from PNG into Australian bank accounts each year, the AFP reportedly said it came from a comment made by the AFP senior liaison officer (Steve Mullins) at a provincial police commander's conference in Lae.

"The comments made were general in nature and related to unconfirmed sources of information," the AFP spokesperson reportedly said.

"I can confirm the AFP does not have evidence of corruption involving PNG public officials."

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