30 Mar 2017

PNG businessman found guilty of misappropriation

2:02 pm on 30 March 2017

Papua New Guinea's National Court has found an East New Britain businessman guilty of misappropriating $US2 million meant for upgrading a school.

Kerevat National High School, East New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

Kerevat National High School, East New Britain, Papua New Guinea. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Eremas Wartoto was found to have misused public funds allocated and paid to Sarakolok West Transport for the renovation of facilities at the Kerevat National High school back in 2008.

While the trial was held early last year, it's taken until now for Justice George Manuhu to reach a decision.

With his bail forfeited, Wartoto has been taken to Bomana Correctional Facility near Port Moresby, with sentencing expected late next month.

Eremas Wartoto

Eremas Wartoto Photo: PNG Attitude / http://asopa.typepad.com/

In 2008 Kerevat National High school was in a state of decline, desperately needing repair of its dormitories, ablution blocks, water and sewerage.

SWT, a company belonging to Wartoto, was awarded a contract of almost US$2.5 million for the work.

With the company saying it needed equipment and materials to start the work, an advance payment of US$2 million was made before any work had started on the ground.

The court found that no work had been done after this payment was made to improve the water and sewerage situation at the school.

Students playing basketball at Kerevat National High School.

Students playing basketball at Kerevat National High School. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Wartoto, who had pleaded not guilty, earlier rose to prominence in 2013 when fraud detectives sought to have him return to PNG from Australia.

Australia had allowed him to enter the country on a 457 visa despite a PNG government request he be barred.

Wartoto had been wanted in relation to a series of alleged fraud cases, including alleged misuse of funds intended to rehabilitate agricultural plantations.

PNG's former planning minister Paul Tiensten was in late 2013 found guilty of misappropriating a US$3.6 million grant to Wartoto and his company Travel Air.

Tiensten received a nine-year jail term.

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