‘Sleeping giant’ PNG anti-fraud unit has power to recover millions of kina

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PNG's Anti-Corruption police HQ
PNG's National Fraud and Anti Corruption Directorate headquarters ... people have been charged with fraud, misappropriation, and corruption and sentenced to imprisonment - but no assets have been recovered. Image: PNG Facts

By Frank Rai in Port Moresby

Papua New Guinea’s National Fraud and Anti Corruption Directorate is a “sleeping giant” resting beneath the hills of Konedobu along the Poreporena Freeway in the National Capital District.

This police unit has all the potential sanctioned by an Act of Parliament to recoup and recover millions of kina in stolen assets for the state.

NFACD detective Chief Superintendent Matthew Damaru told the PNG Post-Courier that the directorate had the powers under the Proceeds of Crimes Act 2005 — but the resources and expertise needed to exercise its powers were lacking.

He said the Act allowed the state to sell stolen assets, including properties, land, and cash, and return it to the state through the Department of Finance in Consolidated Revenue annually.

“In 2005, the National Parliament passed the Proceeds of Crime Act. That Act required a Financial Intelligent Unit which was established in 2006,” he said.

“I was in charge at that time so I established the unit that was called FIU. FIU’s main purpose is to gather all financial intelligence from Commercial Banks on suspicious transactions.

“Any transactions that are flagged by the banks as suspicious are referred to FIU for investigation and prosecution.”

More law amendments
Damaru said that in 2015 there were more amendments made to the Act and FIU transferred the function of supervising commercial banks to the Bank of PNG and this was later called the Financial Analysis and Supervision Unit (FASU).

He said NFACD held onto the investigation part of the unit which was changed from FIU to Assets Recovery Unit (ARU).

“We do investigations, mainly on proceeds of crime and when there are assets including properties purchased using stolen money, we go to Public Prosecutor’s office, we restrain those properties and charge the perpetrators,” he said.

“When they are sentenced and jailed, those properties are forfeited to the state. We sell the properties, get the money and give it back to the state.

“That is where the name is derived, basically to recover stolen monies used to purchase assets and properties,” Damaru said.

He admitted that people had been charged with fraud, misappropriation, and corruption and sentenced to imprisonment but no assets had been recovered.

“The perpetrators go to jail and when they return, their monies are still sitting in their accounts and properties still there. When they come back from serving their term in jail, life is back to normal.

‘Send culprits to streets’
“But this legislation allows the government to recoup everything and send the culprits back to the streets and start anew if they plan to do business.”

He said NFACD, Attorney-General, and the Sheriff’s Office were in the process of establishing trust accounts for the Proceeds of Crime Act to recoup money stolen from the state.

“Now we are trying to finalise the PNG segment of the investigation. Everything is complete, is a matter of trying to complete the process in court. We also have to establish a trust account because the Proceeding Crime Act requests two trust accounts,” he added.

He said the Department of Finance and Attorney-General were working to open the trust account, while the Sheriff’s Office had been appointed in the interim to sell the assets.

Damaru said there were currently five properties — in Port Moresby, Wewak and Rabaul — to be sold and the money recouped handed back to the state.

Frank Rai is a PNG Post-Courier journalist.

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