OMBUDSMAN RELEASES ANOTHER REPORT CRITICAL OF FORMER VANUATU PRIME MINISTER

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PORT VILA, Vanuatu (February 27, 1998 - PACNEWS)---Vanuatu's former Prime Minister, Maxime Carlot Korman, has been accused again by the Ombudsman, Marie Noelle-Patterson, for violating the leadership code.

The Ombudsman Thursday released a public report on the misuse of funds by Korman, when he was still Prime Minister.

The Ombudsman alleged that Korman had opened a personal account to receive some cyclone relief funds following damages caused by Cyclone Betsy in 1992. It is alleged that the money donated by overseas countries have been directed to the account known as the Betsy Account.

The report says the Ombudsman office has carried out an investigation on the operation of this account, on the basis that the account was opened illegally in breach of financial regulations. It says neither the Department of Finance nor the Ministry of Finance were aware of the existence of the account.

It is alleged that Korman has used the account as his own personal account and, during the period 1993-1997, deposited over 75 million vatu ($US 604,000) into the account. The report says a total of 126 million vatu ($US 1.1million) was deposited either to the Betsy Account controlled by Korman or Korman's personal account between 1995 and 1996. The Ombudsman's office says this amount represents 45 times Korman's annual salary as Prime Minister.

The Ombudsman has recommended that the public prosecutor make an investigation into the checks drawn on the Betsy Account at the time of the elections, with the view to charging Korman with bribery and possibly other offenses under the Penal Code Act. It also recommends that Korman close the Betsy Account and hand over the remaining funds to the government, and also refund the government all moneys he used from the account for personal purposes.

The Ombudsman also recommends that Korman should not at any time be appointed Prime Minister or a minister of the government of Vanuatu nor to any position involving public money. Meanwhile, Korman has attacked the report saying the Ombudsman does not have the right to investigate into his personal accounts. Korman says it is stated clearly in the Ombudsman Act that any such investigation needs a court order.

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