‘DISTURBING’ FBI RAID DRAWS CONCERN IN PAGO PAGO

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‘DISTURBING’ FBI RAID DRAWS CONCERN IN PAGO PAGO

By Terry Tavita

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Mar. 5) – The American Samoa Government was yesterday exploring the possibility of challenging the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raid on its offices.

The Governor's legal counsel, Tasi Tuiteleleapaga, said there were inconsistencies with the FBI search warrant and how it was executed.

"I strongly believe that the Governor should have had legal representation present when the actual search was carried out," he said. "Representation to protect the integrity of the Governor and to ensure that the search did not exceed its scope."

It comes amidst anger in the Territory over the way more than 20 armed FBI agents flew in from Honolulu and took over the American Samoan Government Building at Utulei on Thursday morning.

The agents were executing search warrants as "part of an on-going public corruption investigation", a statement from the FBI Honolulu office said. They are reported to have taken tax records of a number of current and former Government members and businesspeople and businesses.

It follows other recent federal action against American Samoan officials and a local Senate Select Investigative Committee's allegations of corruption in the Government.

Mr Tuiteleleapaga said he asked the FBI agents that he be present during the search of Governor Togiola Tulafono's office but they would not allow this.

Governor Togiola is away in Washington for meetings. He is not believed to be one of those whose tax records were taken.

Another Government official - who spoke on condition that he not identified – said, "There should have been local representation, preferably legal, to observe the search and oversee the Governor's best interests. Particularly, as the Governor appears not to be the focus of the FBI's investigations."

There were also problems with the serving of the search warrants, Mr Tuiteleleapaga said.

"The warrant was served to a part-time janitor who can't speak any English. He did not understand a word when it was read out to him."

The FBI responded that they the warrant was served to whoever was there.

Lieutenant Governor Ipulasi Aitofele Sunia and other employees were kept outside as the FBI agents searched his office, Governor Togiola's office, that of Attorney-General Sialega Malaetasi and the Treasury computer room.

Witnesses said that the agents left with several boxes of documents when the search was concluded around 2 p.m. Thursday. All Government offices were again reopened for business when the FBI's search was completed.

Reports said that the FBI team had confiscated four years of tax records of a list of Government officials, individuals and businesses.

Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin, who is scheduled to arrive in the Territory today, held discussions with FBI officials in Honolulu yesterday.

Governor Togiola is expected back in the Territory next weekend.

The FBI also announced that plans were being made to establish an office in American Samoa before the end of the year. Currently American Samoa is covered by the FBI office in Honolulu, Hawai'i.

The Territory and its Government are a major recipient of American federal funds. Cases recently before the courts have related to such federal funding.

In a public address on television on Thursday night, Acting Governor Ipulasi described the raid as an "invasion" that was carried out in a "disturbing" manner. The FBI agents, he described, as "armed and intimidating".

As a leader of this territory, Ipulasi said that he "cannot sit idly by while agents of another sovereign rummage through the Office of the Chief Executive."

He said that the raid was in bad taste particularly as the Territory was coping with the aftermath of two cyclones, which struck Manu'a group and Swains Island.

March 8, 2005

Samoa Observer: www.samoaobserver.ws/

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