Police hold back green lane probe

By James Robertson 28 November 2021, 9:46PM

Police's involvement in a probe relating to a scheme to evade import duties on incoming shipments remains on hold as a Public Service Commission (P.S.C.) investigation into the scheme deepens.

The Minister of Police, Faualo Harry Schuster, confirmed the investigation into the alleged misuse of so-called Green Lanes remained on ice while another query was ongoing. 

Earlier this year, both the P.S.C. and Police started an investigation on an Assistant Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Customs and Revenue, Alvin Onesemo.

The case relates to allegations that he abused the priority “Green Lane List” to allegedly help family members financially by releasing shipping containers without proper authorisation or payment of taxes or duties.

This matter was initially sent to the Ministry of Police and Prisons upon the request of the Ministry to conduct a criminal investigation against Mr Onesemo. 

But in July, the Commissioner of the Ministry, Matafeo Avalisa Viali-Fautuali’i, asked the Police to delay their criminal investigation into the matter citing fears the caretaker Government's reputation could be damaged with revelations that added = "fuel to the fire" in a delicate political climate.

The request is contained in an official letter dated 1 July 2021 signed by M.C.R. Commissioner Matafeo Avalisa Viali-Fautuali’i and addressed to the former Police Commissioner Fuiavaili’ili Egon Keil and obtained by the Samoa Observer. 

“As [the Public Service Commission (P.S.C.)] has already commented on its investigation into allegations against Alvin Onesemo, it is best that they continue with their investigation process first," the letter reads. 

“And for the Police investigation to be deferred until after P.S.C.’s investigation and findings and for myself to regularly liaise with the Commissioner on [the] findings of both our investigations, especially when any criminal aspect of the case is surfaced. 

“We are hoping for the P.S.C. investigation will take no longer than two to three weeks, If P.S.C. takes longer then [the Police Ministry] will continue with [its] own investigation on any possible criminal aspect of the case,.” 

Matafeo said that their request for a delayed investigation was made between public servants to protect the then-government's “overall interest" and prevent it from “unnecessary scrutiny”. 

This was particularly so, she wrote, in the uncertain political climate during which the nation was in the midst of a constitutional crisis and a power struggle.“With great shame and sincerest regret for the  [alleged] wrongdoing of our A.C.E.O. which reflects negligence of myself as C.E.O. and negative implication on the Ministry and Government as a public entity, having your Ministry involved at this stage on the presumption of criminal actions will only add fuel to the fire with misinformation to the public by the media," she wrote. 

While confirming that "police's involvement" in the investigation is "still on hold," Faualo is of the belief that the P.S.C. is carrying out their own investigation. 

Attempts to get a comment from the Chair of the P.S.C., Lauano Vaosa Epa has not been successful. 

"I spoke to the (deputy police ) Commissioner about the issue," Faualo responded to queries from Samoa Observer. 

"What I have been told is that they asked for the investigation from the Police side to be withheld. For Police, they go through the same process for everything and everyone. 

"When someone files a complaint then the investigation will continue and if they asked for the investigation to be put on hold, then we would need another letter or indication for the investigation to continue. 

"So for now, I understand that the P.S.C. are continuing with their investigation. What I understand is that once the person who is investigated is being terminated, that will be the end of it. 

"But we shall wait and see what the results of the investigation will be."




By James Robertson 28 November 2021, 9:46PM
Samoa Observer

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