Govt. officials told not to be "negligent" in checking foreign investors

Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, says Government officials must not be negligent in their responsibility to perform due diligence on foreign investors wishing to do business in Samoa.

The Prime Minister was responding to queries about the operations of Samoa’s first call centre, which have been stopped pending an investigation by the Office of the Attorney General. 

The Call Centre was opened for less than two months and was run by an Australian man, Graham Liao, who is PEEQ Telecommunication’s Executive Trustee.  

An investigation by the Samoa Observer on Tuesday revealed serious questions about Mr. Liao's identity and business background. 

Mr. Liao has not responded to multiple requests for comment from this newspaper.

The Government has confirmed it was aware of allegations that Mr. Liao was alleged to have multiple aliases and confirmed he had met the Prime Minister with plans to set up the call centre and an airline.

Speaking to the media yesterday, Tuilaepa explained that the company was waiting for a lease which required clearance from the Attorney General’s Office regarding criminal records. 

He did not say at what stage the investigation is up to.

But he said many investors come to see him with ambitious plans to run businesses in Samoa. 

“When they come, you have to smile even when you don’t want to smile,” he said. 

Tuilaepa recalled that many foreign investors come to Samoa in response to invitations to invest in the country but they are required to submit applications in order to do business. 

He said the application includes background and financial history. He said several Government bodies should be involved including the Attorney General’s Office, the Ministry of Finance, Central Bank of Samoa and the Pacific Transnational Crimes Center in Apia. 

“They are responsible for due diligence and this is where we know if those coming are members of the mafia,” he said. 

According to the Prime Minister, if due diligence checks are done and investors are not found to be credible, the Government will deal with them in accordance with the law. 

He said he has come across many crook investors who try to fool the Government.

“It might come out as a joke but it stresses that government officials shouldn’t be negligent but go out to investigate countries (where the investors are from) and check with bank institutions if they (investors) have any money," he said.

Recalling the past, Tuilaepa said there was an investor that came in at 1995 with big plans to set up a hotel using a Samoan shareholder as a "bait".  He did not say who the investor was. 

He added that the investor had raised issues with him on the delay in response with his proposal saying that he is bringing millions to invest in Samoa and generate employment for the country. 

"That was their intention. He said they want to spend their money in the country and are not coming to take anything," said Tuilaepa. 

"I had told him how wrong his claim is because no business person wants to go into business without any returns. I also told him don't ever come and try to fool the Government."

When the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupa'i, was queried about PEEQ’s operations and Mr. Liao, he said it was not his job to do background checks.

The Regulator’s Office had confirmed that PEEQ was not issued a telecommunications license and had not filed an application to do so in accordance to the law. 

However, Afamasaga said he was introduced to Mr. Liao who went to see the Prime Minister with another airline company expressing interest to operate an airline and a call centre. 

The Minister added that PEEQ had obtained a foreign certificate and business license to operate. 

Those license are issued by the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour. 

Chief Executive Officer for M.C.I.L., Pulotu Lyndon Chu Ling, has not responded to several follow-up queries from the Samoa Observer.

The Governor of the Central Bank of Samoa, Maiava Atalina Enari was asked for a comment via email. 

She did not respond as of press time. 

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