Minister calls for white-collar crime crackdown
The Minister of Police and Prisons, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, has lamented increasing delays in the prosecution of cases of white collar crime and the theft of public funds.
The Minister said delays owed due to a backlog of cases and also put a cap timeframe for concluding the investigation of criminal matters.
“Police investigations should [not go] for six months [or more] and if more time is required, the Officer in Command should be questioned and it has to be a valid reason why additional time is needed,” said Tialavea.
He added the Government to date has invested into the Ministry of Police and Prisons, such as manpower and resources to expedite investigations into pending matters.
The Minister singled out embezzlement cases involving Government entities.
“These cases should be prioritized, given it involves public funds.”
He referred to the case of the Samoa National Provident Fund where former employees allegedly embezzled more than $140,000 from the fund over five years.
The alleged scam began in 2014.
It involved taking pension funds from the accounts of pensioners after they passed away.
Another case involves the alleged misappropriation of $300,000 by a former A.C.E.O. for the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration along with the case of the former Legislative Clerk accused of falsifying purchases and misusing public money on lunches and dinners.
“These cases involve a huge amount of public funds [allegedly] misappropriated by former Government officials and these cases should be a priority,” said the Minister.
"It's understood there are complex issues encountered by the investigating officers, but that can't be the case for all embezzlement cases."
“In my view, the longest that any case should be investigated is six months. If by that timeframe it is not complete the Police Commissioner should get to the bottom of it and find out why it is taking so long,” said Minister Tialavea.
The Minister acknowledged the hard work by the Police Commissioner and noted that Police obligations continue to grow after responsibility for traffic enforcement was transferred back to the Police. The increase of drug cases, domestic violence and sexual related matters has also been a drain on Police resources.
"But when it comes to matters involving public funds, [these matters] should be prioritised,” he said.
The Minister noted this week there have been promotions including the appointment of additional top leaders in the Ministry to ensure that the Ministry is meeting its mandate.
“The Commissioner has his A-team, Papalii [Monalisa Keti]; Aupa’au [Logoitino Filipo]; the new Assistant Commissioners and [Assistant Chief Executive Officer (A.C.E.O)] of Lega,” the Minister said.
“I read about the new Inspectors that were promoted this week; now they should focus on getting to the bottom of pending investigations.”
The Police Commissioner Fuiavaili’ili Egon Keil told the Samoa Observer in earlier interviews the Police will not make any arrest unless they have concrete evidence.
“As stated before, we will only move forward when we are done with the investigation and such cases take up to months, if not years, given the complexity,” he said.