PORT MORESBY – Carolyn Blacklock, former acting managing director of PNG Power, has been arrested by a police criminal investigation team and charged with conspiracy, forgery, false pretence and misappropriation.
The forensic team had been established by police commissioner David Manning to investigate high level financial crimes.
Ms Blacklock, 48, from Mareeba in Queensland, is alleged to have conspired with another person to forge an employment contract and defraud PNG Power of K1.7 million between August 2018 and August 2019.
Police say that in August 2017, Ms Blacklock was employed by global infrastructure consultants Cardno PNG as an advisor to the Department of the Prime Minister and National Executive Council (NEC).
Cardno PNG manages the Economic and Social Infrastructure Program, under which Ms Blacklock was employed, which is a development assistance program supported by Australian government aid.
In January 2018, when Peter O’Neill was prime minister, the NEC appointed her to temporarily head up PNG Power, in which the sole shareholder is the government-owned Kumul Holdings, while the managing director’s job was advertised.
The police allege that Ms Blacklock and PNG Power chairman, Peter Nupiri, conspired to fabricate a contract of employment to appoint Ms Blacklock as acting managing director while she was still employed by Cardno PNG.
They allege that, relying on the fraudulent contract, between August 2018 and August 2019 Ms Blacklock directed PNG Power finance staff to pay her more than K1.7 million even though she was still receiving a salary from Cardno PNG.
On Monday, Ms Blacklock was arrested at Harbour City, Konedobu, and interviewed by the National Capital District Fraud Squad.
After the interview, police said they were satisfied there was sufficient evidence to charge her under the Criminal Code.
Ms Blacklock's arrest will have triggered considerable concerns within her employer, Cardno PNG, and Australia’s Foreign Affairs Department, to which Cardno PNG is a major managing contractor within the Australian development aid program.
Cardno’s website says the Economic and Social Infrastructure Program, under which Ms Blacklock worked, is “a development assistance program supported by the Australian Government (DFAT) and implemented by Cardno.”
It is believed that Cardno PNG has previously paid salaries for key positions in the PNG government and its entities.
More recently Cardno deployed Dr David Kavanamur as economic and infrastructure advisor to prime minister James Marape.
Dr Kavanamur’s Linked In account refers to him as a full-time strategic advisor at Cardno PNG.
Professor Albert Schram, former vice-chancellor of the PNG’s University of Technology, himself arrested in a high level entanglement, feels some sympathy for Ms Blacklock
“Oh no, there we go again,” Prof Schram stated on Twitter.
“A reputable foreign professional, who never had any run in with the law or police, is suddenly charged by Port Moresby cops-for-hire, usually paid by dishonest employees looking for payback.”
His advice was, “Expats: avoid PNG at any cost.”
Whether Ms Blacklock’s case has been trumped up, as was Prof Schram’s, remains to be seen.
But having third party advisers ultimately funded by Australian development aid occupying senior advisory positions at the heart of PNG political decision-making will always present a risky relationship.
Additional sources: Sunday Bulletin; Cardno website; Linked In