AUSSIE DETECTIVES PROBE PNG EMBEZZLEMENT CASE

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By Jason Som Kaut

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Sept. 19) - Detectives from the Australian state of Queensland are in Papua New Guinea to help track down and prosecute people involved in a embezzlement case involving a major construction firm.

Prime among those investigated is an Australian man for his part in the closure of the Port Moresby plant of Hornibrooks NGI Steel Construction Company. Hornibrooks NGI was allegedly defrauded of over PGK1 million [US$355,000] purportedly by the Australian former employee.

[PIR editor’s note: Hornibrooks NGI is a steel fabrication company located in the northern PNG city of Lae.]

The man was previously employed as a senior manager at its Port Moresby operations until the early 2000s.

During his employment with the company, it is believed the man set up companies in Australia with intent to defraud Hornibrooks.

The scam allegedly left Hornibrooks with more than PGK1 million in the red.

It was one of the main reasons forcing the company to close down its Port Moresby office in 2002 leaving about 150 skilled and unskilled Papua New Guineans jobless.

The three detectives from the Queensland state police department who flew up to pursue the case include investigating officer Senior Constable Sue Wakerley, Sergeant Mark Hamilton and forensics expert Brett Gordon.

The three are from the fraud and corporate crime group under the state crime operations command of the Queensland police department.

Hornibrooks NGI had initially laid a complaint with Queensland police in relation to the former employee’s involvement in fraud against the company.

Ms. Wakerley said they had begun their investigations in Queensland.

"Our investigations had brought us to PNG as there are some Hornibrooks NGI staff that needed to be interviewed and some papers and files that needed to be looked at," Wakerley said.

Hornibrook company director Sherron Lewis said: "There had to be a clear message to the business community and employees that fraud will not be tolerated.

"It does not matter where you live and work, the long arm of the law will get you," Wakerley added.

Sergeant Hamilton said that while in Lae, they had gathered valuable evidence.

He said they had conducted several searches of properties and business houses from Cairns to the Gold Coast in their quest to gather evidence.

At least four people are expected to be charged but the detectives said that this number could increase.

It was alleged that the accused put business belonging to Hornibrook through the companies that he set-up, inflating prices of goods and services being offered by Hornibrooks and other companies.

The investigating team agreed it was a criminal offence and once investigations are complete, those responsible will be prosecuted.

Mrs. Lewis said: "Expatriates should think they are privileged to get work permits and respect the laws of this country."

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