FICAC closes submission on $300k PWD scam case
Signatures were forged, blank cheques were signed and job numbers was falsely used to deliberately cause a loss to the Public Works Department, the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) argued in court yesterday.
FICAC prosecutor, Rashmi Aslam, made the statement in his closing submission in the trial of former employees of the Public Works Department (PWD) and a businessman.
The six accused appeared before Justice Thushara Rajasinghe at the High Court in Suva.
They are on trial for allegedly causing a loss of about $363,000 to the Government.
Mr Aslam said the evidence in the case was “exhausting” and very relevant as it has shown that a loss of $363,000 was caused by the acts of the six accused.
It is alleged that between 2011 and 2014 Ana Laqere, Amelia Vunisea, Laisa Halafi, Vaciseva Lagai, Vilisi Tuitavuki and Kiniviliame Taviraki, did arbitrary acts for the purpose of gain namely facilitated the processing of false payments to be made to three bogus companies namely Phoenix Hardware Engineering General Supplies Ltd, Ontime Stationery Supplies and Shavel Stationery Supplies.
They are former employees of the then PWD, while the seventh accused, Shelveen Narayan, who had pleaded guilty to his charges is the director of Phoenix Hardware Engineering and General Supplies, Ontime Stationery Supplies and Shavel Stationery Supplies.
The accused persons are charged with seven counts abuse of office, 35 counts of causing a loss and two counts of obtaining a financial advantage.
Mr Aslam told the court that the former employees of PWD and the businessman initiated the scam, and dishonestly manipulated public funds for personal gain.
Narayan has pleaded guilty to the charges and is awaiting sentencing.
He also appeared as one of the 17 prosecution witnesses during the trial.
Tavenisa Tavaga a former employee of PWD who is also charged among the six was acquitted after her lawyer Sarvana Prakash filed a no case to answer.
The defence produced only two witnesses, who were Laqere and Vunisea. The rest of the accused chose not to give evidence.
Mr Aslam provided his closing submissions by going through each accused person’s role in the scam.
Laqere was the head of the accounts section at PWD.
Mr Aslam stated that in Laqere’s position, she was not able to detect the irregularities and $363,000 was paid to companies without any due process and procedures.
He stated that despite Laqere receiving international training on detecting fraud, she did not detect the fraud in her section.
Narayan as prosecution witness stated that he gave money to Laqere, deposited money into the account of Halafi’s husband, and also gave money to Tuitavuki.
Mr Aslam informed court that different job numbers were being used to raise purchase orders and for payments to be made.
This happened for five months.
Vunisea, an assistant accounts officer is charged for signing blank cheques.
Mr Aslam stated that as public officers, one has a duty to protect public funds by simply being honest, vigilant and doing the work properly.
He said that Vunisea during cross examination admitted signing cheques without proper source documents and she also admitted that she abused her power and caused a loss to PWD.
Halafi did not challenge her case at all. She was a typist and a purchasing officer then.
Mr Aslam said that she did not challenge her case because she had facilitated for Narayan to receive money.
He further said that Narayan stated as evidence that he and Halafi agreed to share the amount of money released from government funds.
“Halafi was instrumental in creating a company name, Phoenix Hardware, and kept receiving portions of money. She raised purchase orders and payment vouchers knowing it was a false payment.
“She created the mechanism and received money in her husband’s account and she falsified documents for non-supply of materials hence receiving a financial advantage.
“Halafi was also caught in destroying evidence when FICAC began its initial investigations,” said Mr Aslam.
It was further stated by Mr Aslam that Lagai certified false payment vouchers without the due process and procedures of checking that it was in accordance with the Local Purchasing Order (LPO).
Tuitavuki was a temporary relieving officer and a cashier.
“She received money from Narayan, and issued blank cheques hence caused a loss to PWD and also signed in payment vouchers, which was false,” said Mr Aslam.
Taviraki was a senior technical officer.
“He signed off on false requisition forms to acquire material to maintain the government quarters,” said Mr Aslam.
Defence lawyer Aseri Valaloloma represents Laqere, Halafi, Vunisea and Lagai while PriyaLal represents Tuitavuki, while Namrata Mishra represents Taviraki.
Judge Justice Thushara Rajasinghe will deliver his summing up on April 27.
Edited by Caroline Ratucadra