Wartoto appears in committal court on K10m fraud charges

National, Normal

The National, Wednesday 22nd May 2013


BUSINESSMAN Eremas Wartoto appeared in court yesterday on fraud-related charges involving K10 million of public funds.

The East New Britain businessman appeared briefly in the Waigani Committal Court before principal magistrate Cosmas Bidar on fraud-related charges relating to a K10 million paid to him by the government for air freight subsidy.

Bidar told Wartoto in court that between May 27, 2010 and March 31, 2011, he had conspired with then National Planning and Monitoring Minister Paul Teinsten and submitted a proposal to the government for air freight subsidy. 

He received K10 million.

Bidar said the second charge of obtaining money by false pretences related to the submission he made on the K10 million, intended to defraud the national government. 

In that, Wartoto had claimed that his airline company Travel Air, operating as Mangi Blo Peles, was registered with the Investment Promotion Authority when it was not at the time, and should be eligible for that subsidy.

Bidar told Wartoto, from Raburua village in Gazelle district, that the committal court would determine if there was sufficient evidence to refer the case to the National Court for a trial.

Meanwhile, Task Force Sweep chairman Sam Koim said in a statement Wartoto had surrendered to them last Wednesday in Kimbe, West New Britain.

Wartoto had left the country two years ago to live in Cairns, Australia, using a 457 visa which was cancelled by Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr last Friday.

Police Task Force Sweep prosecutor Michael Awagl told Bidar that should Wartoto wish to travel out of the country, he would have to get the permission of the National Court.

Wartoto’s lawyer Himson Waninara told Bidar that his client would not run away and had cooperated with the police in their investigation.

Waninara also informed the court that Wartoto’s Australian visa had been cancelled.

The case has been adjourned to July 23.

The court was also informed that Wartoto had another case in the National Court before Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika set for trial in September. Wartoto is on K20,000 bail.

Meanwhile, Australian authorities have seized North Queensland properties owned by Wartoto, after Queensland District Court judge Douglas McGill granted an application by the Australian Federal Police last Tuesday for custody and control orders.

They included five properties, four bank accounts and dozens of cars owned by Wartoto.

Wartoto has been living in Cairns since 2011 after he was accused of misappropriating more than K61.1 million from the PNG government, Australian newspapers reported last week.

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.

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 Rehabilitation of Education Sector Infrastructure (Resi) funds, and a string of outstanding criminal allegations, including receiving K10 million in airfreight subsidies under false pretences, which he appeared for before Bidar yesterday.