Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Samoa probes Papua New Guinea minister's transactions

Property financing came from offshore company


By Savea Sano Malifa


APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, July 26, 2009) – The Central Bank of Samoa (CBS) has instigated an inquiry into the local real estate financial transactions involving the Papua New Guinea Minister of Forests, Belden Namah.

In confirming this on Friday, CBS Governor Leasi Papali’i T. Scanlan said his office has advised the Attorney General’s Office to look into launching an investigation into whether money laundering had been involved in the transactions.

"After all," Leasi said, "we have to protect Samoa’s integrity."

He told the Samoa Observer they made their decision following the receipt of the relevant reports from the bank through which the funds involved in the transactions had been channeled.

"Normally under the Money Laundering Prevention Act 2007, all money remittances of over $30,000 should be reported to us by the banks," Leasi explained. "These remittances are listed in what is known as the banks’ Suspicious Transaction Report (STR), and if they are new clients we ask more questions. I can now confirm that from the STR reports the funds were not from individuals but were from a company offshore. We have now asked the local bank involved to go back to the people they’d received the funds from and find out if they were laundered funds or not. "The onus is on the bank to find out (the details.)"

Leasi said the CBS was undertaking its "due diligence" responsibilities and it expected all local banks to undertake theirs.

"If there is suspicion arising from any banking transaction," he said, "we advise the Attorney General’s Office to look further into (the matter). After all, we have to protect Samoa’s integrity."

On 15 July, the Samoa Observer reported that Mr Namah was involved in the purchases of certain real estate properties around Apia amounting to about 5 million tala [US$1.9 million]

He had apparently helped in the negotiations for the purchase of properties including:

  • Chan Chui Co Ltd on Taufusi Road for more than 2 million tala
  • A two-storey home at Papaloloa for 1.49 million tala
  • A Vaitele property for 1.8 million tala.

According to the previous owner of the Papaloloa property Mrs Freda Andrews, Mr Namah came with his partner to her home. "She fell in love with the house and they bought it." She said when Mr Namah came to their home they knew nothing about him.

"We don’t know anything about him," she said. "The partner fell in love with the house and they bought it."

Although the buyers gave a "10 per cent deposit" her husband was "so persistent" that soon afterwards they were paid in full.

"We’ve got our money," she said, which they had since used to "renovate" another property they owned.

As for the cost of "more than $2 million" for Chan Chui Co Ltd, this was confirmed by Mr Namah’s lawyer in Samoa, Papali’i Tologata Siaki Tuala, during a phone interview.

But the owner of the Vaitele property, Mr Ray Bancroft, was not happy when he was asked for a comment then. He said he had been given a deposit of $200,000 and was promised the rest of the money would be paid by a certain time.

However when the Observer talked to him before the story was published, the balance had still not been paid. At that time, Mr Bancroft was not impressed, saying he had put his furniture in the sale out of trust.

"The furniture alone is worth $100, 000," he revealed. "If I’d known there was to be a problem, I would have put the house back on the market."

Mr Bancroft said he had made it clear to Mr Namah he wanted to sell the property, which was why he had allowed his furniture to be part of the sale.

Asked for a comment at that time, Papali’i said Mr Bancroft had nothing to worry about.

"(The deal) will be finalised as soon as possible," he said.

He also assured Mr Bancroft his client "is just waiting for all the funds to arrive."

Besides, he said the agreement allowed Mr Bancroft "to keep most of the $200, 00 deposit" if the deal fell through.

Later when the story about Mr Namah’s alleged transactions was published in the Samoa Observer, it was picked up by PNG’s The National newspaper which also published it. Mr Namah later told parliament that the reporters "should go back to school."

The National’s story reported that Mr Namah’s lawyer Papali’i threatened to sue the Samoa Observer over the report.

"Mr Namah’s association with these property investments has been with and through his local partner and as the contact for his business partner abroad."

Later on 16 July 2009, Papali’i sent a letter to Samoa Observer’s editor in chief threatening to sue the paper.

The letter also asked to "publish an immediate correction and apology to Mr Namah …"

That letter in full is in letters to the editor section with this newspaper’s response.


Samoa Observer: www.samoaobserver.ws/

Copyright © 2009 Samoa Observer. All Rights Reserved




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