Eremas Wartoto, accused of fraud, got visa despite PNG plea
31 January 2014
AUSTRALIA ALLOWED ONE OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA's most wanted men to enter the country on a 457 skilled worker visa despite a PNG government request for him to be barred, diplomatic cables reveal.
The decision to allow accused fraud Eremas Wartoto (pictured) 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 [the] businessman from travelling to Australia” was documented in a cable sent by the Australian High Commission to Canberra on 24 August 2011.
At that time, Wartoto - a politically connected businessman - had been arrested in PNG as part of a major fraud inquiry into misappropriation of taxpayer funds involving allegedly corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.
Despite the PNG request, Wartoto - who is 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.
A diplomatic cable marked “secret limited distribution” to Foreign Minister Bob Carr in July 2012 states that Wartoto left PNG ''to avoid prosecution'' after an anti-corruption taskforce accused him of a $30 million fraud.
However, despite knowing he was residing in Australia to avoid prosecution, the federal government made no effort to force Wartoto to return to PNG to face charges.
Fairfax Media revealed in May that Wartoto had been able to use his 457 visa to return to Australia after regular trips around Asia.
These trips were taken 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 Wartoto's case is a prime example of Australia failing to act on suspected corrupt politicians, officials and business people using Australian banks and real estate markets to hide ill-gotten gains.
Shortly after Fairfax Media revealed Wartoto's presence in Australia, Senator Carr cancelled Wartoto's visa.
Mathias, if you can find on YouTube the video "Preying on Paradise", you will hear the headmistress of Keravat at the time explain what Eremas did not do. Although he denies it.
At the time I was in contact with many people involved with this sad incident and I know Tiensten did not call for tenders and gave the job to Eremas for political reasons.
There was so much corruption going on at the time it was hard to know where to start! Hopefully, with MPs going off to prison, it will start to ease off.
Posted by: Barbara Short | 26 January 2015 at 09:41 AM
I am not and never have been a student of law but I deal in it daily.
Did Wartoto ever complete his maintenance work at Kerevat? Did he start it at all? If he did not, that is not good. Students of East New Britain will miss out on good dormitories and classrooms.
And there are other reasons he got that money from NPO. If it involves $30 million, that's a lot of money, people's money.
I don't want to indulge in long stories of rights and wrongs but a state minister is in kalabus now for this very issue.
So are you people telling us here that one is guilty but the other is not guilty for the same crime? Are we thinking right or "fucked up"?
Posted by: Mathias Kin | 26 January 2015 at 09:17 AM
As a UK citizen living in the Netherlands, Wartoto and Travel Air are a long way away. But I was interested to see how the new Travel Air is 'taking off'. It would be a good advertisement for PNG if the company becomes successful. But to my surprise I found a hotpotch of postings accusing Wartoto of corruption and accusing Australia of complicity. The postings gave little information about the grounds for the accusation. They also included some fairly hysterical Christian religious comments. However important religion might be to the bloggers they should bear in mind that most of the world does not to judge 'right' and 'wrong' on the basis of religious conviction. An appeal to religious ethics - Christian, Muslim or whatever - sounds fairly primitive to us! It undermines the accusations of corruption.
Posted by: Christian Gibson | 25 January 2015 at 10:04 PM
For all the corruption fighters out there in PNG -
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
The English Standard Version
Another message from my lady friend in PNG Forestry.
Posted by: Mrs Barbara Short | 06 February 2014 at 09:11 AM
Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a reproach to any people.
The New King James Version
Sent to me by a Christian lady who works for the Forestry Department.
Posted by: Mrs Barbara Short | 05 February 2014 at 08:51 AM
Thank you for your fine remarks Kelvin.
Surely my outrage is quite impotent. But where I can wield it with a will, my quill will quiver in its target.
It may very well be that the systems need to be torn asunder to expose the corruption buried at its heart, e.g., do away with duplicated powers of provincial level government and reinstate local level government.
Ensure that legislators do legislating and administrators do administrating (which sounds simple enough.)
Take a serious stand on the accountability of government, particularly the NEC.
And etcetera, as better political minds than mine have commented.
We should be courageous enough to stand at the brink and look in to the deep.
And are we mature enough to ask the right questions, the hard questions of ourselves?
If we had leaders equal to the task...but rather we are eager to tear down carvings that apparently house evil spirits accused of being responsible for the corruption rife in government.
Otherwise, ditto my earlier jargon.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 02 February 2014 at 01:22 PM
Kelvin, nice points.
Posted by: Bernard Yegiora | 02 February 2014 at 12:10 PM
Kelvin, I am very pleased to hear that you are a corruption fighter. I was starting to wonder when you appeared to be supporting Wartoto.
For your information I have been fighting corruption where-ever I have been able to for a long time. I have been a great supporter of the NSW ICAC and have been pushing for an ICAC in PNG.
Yes, I did have some inside information on what happened in 2010 and I was able to help with the ABC Four Corners program on it during 2013.
The brave Mrs Ahai, the former Principal, who Wartoto had tried to intimidate, was able to testify on the Preying on Paradise TV program that the work had not been completed, while Wartoto just laughed it all off and said the work was completed.
Sam Koim knows all about it. He was also involved with the production of this program. Yet the courts procrastinate. Why?
My contacts, the former Keravat students, who have evidence, are too scared to speak out. A lot of people in PNG are scared to speak out, especially women, as they know of the violence that can erupt.
Now in my 70s I cannot attend the protest meetings but my husband and I did spend over an hour speaking with the local political party about what is needed in Australia at the moment and the problems of corruption in Australia.
This is something I encourage all PNGeans to do i.e. speak to your local member of parliament. Democracy is all about speaking out.
When I taught at Keravat in the 1970s I was very involved with the school debating group and had some wonderful debaters in the teams I mentored, people like Susuve Laumaea, who have spoken out for many years in PNG and are now entering retirement.
I'm very pleased to hear that you have joined the club, and are going to keep up the "good fight" for integrity and justice in PNG. PNG needs lots of people like you.
Posted by: Mrs Barbara Short | 02 February 2014 at 07:17 AM
Barbara, I think the PNG Police need your help to investigate Mr Wartoto. You may want to disclose your reliable sources of information to them. If I believe what you are telling me, then you do qualify to testify in court, along with your sources.
Corruption! How do you define it? Is it taking public funds and giving it to private persons without the bilas of paper work, policy and sometimes law?
Is it the naked act of stealing, ie taking what is not yours with the intent to keep it?
Well this act, however you describe is not endemic to PNG. It is everywhere, in one form or another.
No country in the whole world is free from this curse. Even in Australia there is serious corruption involving millions of dollars of public funds.
It is a mature country so your leaders and bureaucrats know how to camouflage it better with chocolate coated policy and legislation, but corrupt nevertheless.
The Australian government is good at covering up corruption. For example every election year the pollies hand out cash freebies in baby support or day-care support or mortgage supplements for first home owners etc to transfer public funds to private hands to win popularity at the polls. Its a form of political corruption, and the Australian people are complicit in it!
Another example, after the last financial crisis, massive amounts of public funds, and I am talking about billions of dollars were pumped into private hands by some bureaucrat producing a policy paper.
The banks are owned by private individuals or publicly held companies. Still massive amounts of public funds were handed over to prop up banks! Banks don't think twice about sending individual loan offenders to the cleaners or to jail.
Banks are the most capricious of all modern institutions. The Australian bush and the dilapidated state of rural agri-productivity is largely due to the oppression of greedy big banks, and yet Barbara, yet with the stroke of a pen, Kevin Rudd penned the term "social democracy", and handed over billions of dollars of public funds to these greedy selfish conniving institutions!
Did you protest in Martin Place? Did the Australian people march on Canberra? No! Why?
Because they are apathetic!
They believe everything their leaders tell them (perhaps). They think they live in Utopia, and the rest of the world, especially countries like PNG and the Pacific, are especially corrupt.
Well Barbara, you are not wrong there. Yes, the Pacific and the world is a corrupt place.
PNG has its leaders, from the very top, stealing from the small people. They are playing silly games with State institutions and the apparatus of government. We are not blind to that and Mr Dom has rightfully expressed outrage, although his outrage is not enough.
I hope you are not blind to the corruption that is humanity the world over. In this respect what social media forums are you on in Australia dealing with corruption in Australia?
You may even want to get on the American social media and comment about the process of Presidential elections and the hundreds of millions of dollars that are poured by companies and individuals into presidential election campaigns. Surely there are no free lunches in Washington.
You may want to ask the moralistic Americans why their office of Presidency, the highest office in the land is beset with corruption at its very foundations?
No, to use public hysteria on corruption as an excuse to speak about one accused man's case in the detail that you have disclosed is indeed very prejudicial to this man and his trial.
The pen is indeed mightier than the sword, once writ cannot be undone.
I believe we need to be outraged about corruption in PNG and everywhere.
I believe we need to expose it, and I believe we need to be responsible in the way we go about it, lest we break down and tear apart the very systems that uphold the law, reward the good and punish evil.
The real true and meaningful change to our world begins from within, and it begins with me. It begins with you. Today.
Posted by: Kelvin Natata | 02 February 2014 at 03:55 AM
Mr Natata, you appear to be the voice of reason in defence of truth and justice, at least for the case of Eremas Wartoto.
However, I suspect that your supposedly virtuous comments and well intentioned rationale may have a less than valuable real influence on the social justice that this nation requires to rise up from the quagmire of corruption.
In order to move from a situation where the well-educated and crafty, well-connected and wealthy so called 'leaders of the nation' are able to manipulate the political and legal systems to their own benefit, it is perhaps time that we readjusted our social outlook.
The current basic systems of governance are very much against the average Papua New Guinean, let alone simple villagers of this impoverished resource rich island state.
For example, minimum wage was unchanged from around 1975 until recently despite the greatly flaunted economic gains made by the country. And yet on several occasions Parliament had deemed itself "justified" to raise their own salaries by almost 100%.
As another example of the current injustice (at least as I see it), the entire Police force of the nation was thrown into a nation-wide man-hunt for one particular man involved in a daring helicopter-roof-top robbery of a bank. The cost of this operation is unknown, whereas, to my memory, none of the stolen monies was ever recovered.
It is a bit too far fetched for me to belive that one man could organise and implement such an obviously costly robbery plan and make the money dissappear.
Meanwhile missing kidnapped female scientists in a small isolated part of the country have been allowed to lounge in captivity for the past few years while enduring goodness knows what kind of treatment from their captors.
And of course, the white collar criminals, which we waste our time arguing about, are still able to get away scott-free because of legal loop-holes, State and Court enforced silence and hypocritical reasoning from legal minds of dubious moral conviction.
Nay, when I say this situation is 'fucked-up' I am not at all being "unreasonably or obsessively anxious, suspicious, or mistrustful" (Oxford online definition of paranoid).
Neither am I getting carried away. Rather I am resigned to the understanding that we simply don't have the leaders with balls enough to stop all this shit from happening.
There are very few of us public servants who are trying to get our jobs done despite the massive quantities of manure and meagre quantities of money that we are given to work with by government.
I would be very much interested in hearing any practically actionable measures that we could take for systematically reviving the current 'fucked-up' systems in PNG.
As a supposedly Christian nation, if we continue to take calmly the corrupt actions of our leaders, I believe we are morally questionable. Does the good Book not instruct us to rage against what is wrong?
I believe that we are not outraged enough.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 01 February 2014 at 07:09 PM
Kelvin, at the time Wartoto was supposed to be renovating Keravat I was in daily contact with the Headmistress, the one he tried to intimidate, and heard all about what was going on.
The "hearsay" came from former Keravat students who witnessed what happened next. I wrote the book on the history of Keravat and former students were in regular contact with me. Maybe some of them actually worked in the bank and know what happened to the money.
If the executive government at the time was complicit then that needs to be brought out during the trial.
I hope he does have a fair trial and it will good to hear how he testifies to the court. Let's hope that the full truth will be revealed.
I'm all in favour of the government giving seed capital to budding young entrepreneurs. But they have to apply for it and wait for it to be given legally not just grab it any way they can.
Wartoto is a former top Keravat student and I can see he has developed skills in running business. But as you say yourself he "did take some money from PNG Government to start that Airline" and that is known as "corruption" and corruption is giving PNG a bad name at the moment.
Posted by: Mrs Barbara Short | 01 February 2014 at 05:10 PM
Here we go again Barbara. Why do you use generalisations and hearsay to prejudice a fair trial for this accused person?
I saw in a recent movie made on Jesus Christ the jeering Pharisees and the crowd chant, "If he is really the Messiah, the son of God, let his save himself" while others chanted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!", a verdict that was reached even before Pilate could render proper Roman Justice!
Truth and justice do not seem to have a place in your dictionary of social engineering (albeit I know you mean well).
That aside, what funds and from what account (ANZ or BSP) did the accused person use to buy which boat and how much money was involved and who was it paid to and on what date?
Ah, you see Barbara, even your many years of teaching these natives does not qualify you to lend yourself and your dignity to the slippery slide of hysteria that I was referring to.
Posted by: Kelvin Natata | 01 February 2014 at 03:49 PM
I heard that the money that Wartoto didn't spend on fixing the windows in the boys' dorms at Keravat was spent on two ships and that one sank in Rabaul harbour.
Excuse me Kelvin Ratata, I didn't go to PNG to teach for 13 years so that Rafferty's rules (apologies to Rafferty) would take over PNG. PNG must learn to follow the rules of right and wrong. Two wrongs don't make a right!
Travel Air might sound great at the moment but it is built on "shifting sand".
PNG must be built on rock, which means you should live by the law. Wartoto needs to own up to what he has done wrong in this life before he meets his Maker.
Posted by: Mrs Barbara Short | 01 February 2014 at 05:40 AM
Folks I believe you are all intelligent human beings. I don't condone anyone stealing. However, I think we are getting a bit paranoid and getting carried away. Logically:
1. At all times Mr Wartoto was not guilty of any offence. Until he was proven to be a criminal Australia was not wrong to grant him a visa.
2. The Allegations made are now before the courts. let the courts hear it without being assailed by such media hysteria and obscenities that goes directly to prejudice a fair trial for this accused man.
3 Too many times I have heard the likes of Sam Koim quick to blame Australia or Australians. Well Mr Koim must realize that he is a creature of the executive government of the day, feeding off the hand of the Prime Minister himself. He should do better to address the Executive Government of PNG on how to govern this country better than to go blaming another government for his own governments' failings. We cant keep going and blaming Australians for our own failings in such cases.
4. Mr Wartoto did take some money from PNG Government to start that Airline. It is easy. The Government should take the same value equity in Travel Air and call it even.
5. The government should also positively encourage national entrepreneurship by creating a seed capital fund and fund good men and women with good ideas. Mr Wartoto's idea is a brilliant one. He should not be penalized, but held accountable, because the executive government was complicit in this. He does not deserve pariah status for this one.
The issues are not quite right and wrong. However, we can choose what we deem as one or another, or look at other ways of doing things that may evoke the greater good and better than useless "justice"- meted out by the blind deaf and dumb.
Not all bells that toll, toll for us, and not all dogs that bark at Waigani, bark for us.
Posted by: Kelvin Natata | 31 January 2014 at 07:39 PM
Past articles have voiced concern that Australia does not assist PNG in identifying assets acquired in Australia with "suspect" funds from PNG nationals.
Perhaps if PNG joined "Asset Recovery Interagency Network of Asia and the Pacific" there might be an obligation (or more trust) for cooperation?
Posted by: Laurence Quinlivan | 31 January 2014 at 12:12 PM
Sadly, on one PNG blog, all the "silly young ones" are busy praising Wartoto and saying he should be Prime Minister.
Give me strength!
Posted by: Mrs Barbara Short | 31 January 2014 at 11:49 AM
It is an indication of how 'fucked-up' (that's the technical term) the PNG mentality is that many people actually think this fucker was smart to avoid prosecution and that since Travel Air gives cheaper flights it's OK that he swindled the government to get the start-up capital.
Are the carvings in parliament responsible for this, Mr Zurenuoc?
Posted by: Michael Dom | 31 January 2014 at 08:58 AM