Money laundering fiasco, and the enigma called Prime Minister Tuilaepa

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Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa

The headline on the front page of the Samoa Observer on 8 June 2016, reads: “P.M. Tuilaepa demands ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’.”

Just below it, is Tuilaepa’s photo showing him clad in a blue shirt, he is standing behind the podium speaking into the microphone, and he is delivering an address.

That address of his, as the front page story will soon reveal is directed at elected government leaders and public servants, warning them:

“Each and every Samoan has the right to expect their elected leaders to remain ethical and honest, in return for paying their taxes. 

“They place their trust in you as the pubic sector, to make the right decision that will not in any way harm their livelihoods.”

Tuilaepa continued: “There is nothing more valuable than the principles of honesty and integrity.

“The price of dishonest and unethical behavior is paid for by the average citizen. Because every cent you misuse and misappropriate contributes to a bigger problem, which ultimately affects the life of the ordinary person.”

Now who is this man? 

In one breath he’s condescending, arrogant and foul-mouthed, and in the next he’s caring, considerate, loving. 

Listen to him: “Less money trickles down to the village school that is in need of more books and teachers; or to our public hospital that needs more doctors and resources; or to improve the quality of our roads, particularly for our rural communities.”

Now seriously, what kind of joker is this man? Is he real?

We’re asking these questions because just five days later - on 13 June that was – Prime Minister Tuilaepa had changed so dramatically he was now a totally different person.

It all began when the government’s Savali Newspaper sent the Samoa Observer a copy of an interview it had conducted with its boss, Tuilaepa.

Later, the Observer published the entire interview unedited, and almost right away a brand-new Tuilaepa emerged.

This time he was arrogant, condescending and above all, he sounded so spitefully vengeful it was scary. 

Listen to what he said: “Perhaps it’s because the HRPP has recently made history with its landslide victory in our general elections, and some old dogs still have a bone to pick about that. 

 “But with old dogs, their bark is usually worse than their bite.”

Oh, is that so? 

He certainly has a way with words this joker, our dear prime minister. 

Where else in the world would a leader of a country founded on God insist on injecting the fear of the devil in everyone?

Listen to his next words: “Now that we have no more opposition party, maybe the Observer has decided to take on the role themselves, and keep the tradition of barking up the wrong tree.”

Well now, that hurts.

And then as if he truly doesn’t care, he’s saying: “But with old dogs, their bark is usually worse than their bite.”

Oh, is that so? 

Now we know. But then he needs not worry.

Let him be assured therefore that as a newspaper, the Samoa Observer is the proverbial watchdog of the government, for the public interest that is. 

And that is the only role it feels duty-bound to play.

Besides, it does not bark, nor does it bite.

Still, Tuilaepa is not finished with his attack, and this time he’s becoming an idiot, as he’s saying: “Sano should check his facts before he starts to write about issues that he has obviously forgotten.”

Now that truly hurts. What does he know about facts when all he does is distort facts?

Did he not know that the person he’s talking about does not forget anything, since he’s built never to forget?

In fact, he talks only facts. And facts never lie.

Poor Tuilaepa! 

He said: “All in all, these wasteful tales from Sano these past few weeks can be summed up in two letters … BS.”

Well then, if that’s the acronym for BULLSHIT, then surely it’s time now for Prime Minister Tuilaepa to be thrown in the dungeon, and then throw away the key.

What is going on with this man anyway? Will he ever be satisfied with anything any more? It looks as if now that he is so powerful he can just about break anyone apart he’s become a lousy chameleon, and a pretty crafty one at that too.  

So let’s go back to 10 April 2016. 

That was when the Samoa Observer - during the performance of its duty as the watchdog of the government in the public interest - published on its front page the story titled: “P.M. unaware of the diplomat’s role in Mossack Fontesca.”

In that story, he denied having any knowledge that his government was involved in the Mossack Fonseca scandal that – at the time - was rocking the financial world to its knees.

“I don’t understand it,” he said. “I need to know the context.”

And yet, it later turned out that “Samoa’s High Commission in Australia had routinely assisted Mossack Fonseca, in creating shell companies.”

Did he not know about that too?

In fact, one of those shell companies later faced sanctions for supplying goods to the Syrian government and military; the details are part of the Panama Paper leak, which is now making international headlines.”

At the time, the Governor of the Central Bank of Samoa, Maiava Atalina Ainu’u Enari, could not be reached for a comment.

Questions sent to her email as the head of Samoa’s Money Laundering Prevention Authority, were somehow not responded to.

And yet, Samoa’s connection with Mossack Fonseca, at the time, was indisputable; in fact, it had already been established that Mossack Fonseca had an office in Samoa’s High Commission in Canberra.

At that time also, that office was assisting with the forwarding of documents for the creation of shell companies to other countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

One report said the Samoan High Commissioner had made known in a statement that she was not aware of any instances, where documents had been received from Mossack Fonseca for legalization.

Later still, a report said some documents had been forwarded for processing only to foreign authorities.

And then in an email dated 16 April 2013 from Mossack Fonseca’s Samoan office in Australia, the details of the process being used to send documents from there to UAE, were spelt out. 

Wrote a Mossack Fonseca employee: 

 “We had forwarded on 15 March 2013 to the Samoa High Commission a Certificate of Good Standing for the above company, for authentication by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, and then to be forwarded to the UAE embassy for further endorsement.” 

The reports went on to say that “last month, Samoa’s Money Laundering Prevention Authority issued a warning to professional money launderers, and international money launderers who may be using Samoa as a stage in their dealings.”

And then Maiava, in a media statement issued by the Central Bank, said:  “One professional money launderer can move tens, or hundreds of millions of tala out of, or through Samoa in a matter of minutes.

 “It is these people we must, and will, shut down to reduce the harm caused to Samoans by money laundering, and the crimes that generate laundered funds such as drug crime, corruption, tax evasion, fraud, scams and extortion.”

Did Maiava warn her boss, Prime Minister Tuilaepa, about what was going on at the Central Bank of Samoa, right here in Apia? 

We don’t know.  Neither does the public. 

All we know is that “the warning from Maiava came at the time when Samoa’s Financial Intelligence Unit (F.I.U), started the first of a series of operations to identify, and address some of the challenges raised in a report by an international team into Samoa’s efforts to address money laundering.

 “The Financial Intelligence Unit knows that most entities that will be examined under this operation are doing the right thing, but it is that 1% that are operating outside the law that are on notice.” 

Incidentally, “money laundering is the process of trying to make illegally-obtained money look like it came from a legal source. 

“Money laundering goes on, to a greater or lesser extent, in all countries in the world.

“The work being done by the F.I.U is to ensure that the protection of Samoa’s financial institutions and systems are absolutely water-tight and adaptable in order to keep up to date with ever changing circumstances in the money laundering arena. 

“The operation is focused on professional money launderers in Samoa, as well as international money launderers who may be using Samoa as a stage in their money laundering processes. 

“International experience has shown that professional money launderers are more likely to be found in industries such as lawyers, accountants, real estate agents and bankers, as well as financial sectors that commonly handle large amounts of cash, or that can move funds internationally as part of their legitimate business.

“The F.I.U has a range of powers and sanctions to address this issue through enforcement of the anti-money laundering legislation, which it expects it may have to exercise for the first time over the coming months.” 

The question then is: With all this information available from the office of Samoa’s High Commissioner in Australia, why is it that Prime Minister Tuilaepa, did not know anything?

Indeed, why is it that he had not been informed so that like someone who had no interest in these things - or that he had been deliberately shut out for whatever reason - did not know anything to the point that all he could say, was: “I don’t understand it. I need to know the context.”

Stay tuned.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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