Wartoto’s Qld assets seized

Main Stories, National

The National, Wednesday 15th May 2013

 AUSTRALIAN authorities have seized north Queensland properties owned by East New Britain businessman Eremas Wartoto.

Queensland District Court judge Douglas McGill yesterday granted an application by the Australian Federal Police for custody and control orders over five properties, four bank accounts and dozens of cars controlled by Wartoto, The Australian newspaper reported.

Wartoto runs an airline, Mangi Long Ples, in PNG but has been living in Cairns since 2011 after he was accused of misappropriating more than A$30 million (K61.1 million) from the PNG government.

It was reported in The Age newspaper that Wartoto had been living in Australia on a 457 visa.

According to the Australia immigration website, the 457 visa allows a business to employ someone from outside Australia in a skilled job in Australia.

The holder can work in Australia for up to four years, bring his family with him, and travel in and out of Australia as often as he wants.

McGill was told Wartoto flew back to PNG from Cairns last week.

McGill agreed to issue the new orders to reinforce property restraining orders filed last month. 

He said there was a risk that Wartoto might try to sell the properties, but this would keep them “out of (his) hands”.

The court was told Wartoto owned several rental properties in Cairns where he also controlled a car rental business.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) alleged Wartoto faxed some documents from Queensland to PNG to help him commit the alleged fraud against the PNG government, which is why Australian authorities restrain some of his assets.

Wartoto was not represented in court but AFP lawyer Ben Moses said Wartoto’s lawyers had been informed of the situation.

Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika was told in the National Court last month that Wartoto was facing two charges of misappropriating more than K8 million in Resi funds, and a string of outstanding criminal allegations, including receiving K10 million in airfreight subsidies under false pretences.

He was hearing a bail application by Wartoto to remain in Australia for “health reasons” until his trial began in September.

State prosecutor Raphael Luman had opposed the bail application on the grounds Wartoto had fled the country after the 2011 charges were laid.

Luman said Wartoto had not attended all his committal hearings and the state could not be sure whether he would turn up for his trial.

He said investigations had revealed that although Wartoto said he was too ill to attend court hearings in PNG, he had travelled six times out of Australia to other countries such as the Solomon Islands and Fiji.

Wartoto’s lawyer Levente Jurth told Salika his client was not evading prosecution but suffered from serious heart conditions which could not be adequately treated in Port Moresby.

Salika granted the bail application on health grounds but asked Jurth to ensure Wartoto returned for his trial in September.