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Southern Highlands official allegedly took $95,000

By Mohammad Bashir

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, May 12, 2008) - A former Southern Highlands provincial treasurer has been arrested and charged with misappropriating PGK250,000 [US$95,122].

Kevin Puruno, 54 from Kaupena was arrested by Port Moresby-based fraud squad officers in Mendi last Thursday.

The police officers are investigating and apprehending suspects involved in the PGK2 million [US$761,000] Kutubu Special Support Grant fraud.

According to police reports, on February 16, 2006, Puruno allegedly witnessed and verified the encashment of check number 3201 for PGK250,000 [US$95,000], drawn from the provincial treasury operating account number 1000585277 and transferred to the Southern Highlands provincial government operating account and made payable to the district office in Mendi. Police alleged that Puruno knowingly witnessed and made the check payable when he knew it was for a fraudulent claim.

When questioned by police, Puruno acknowledged witnessing the encashment of the check but denied signing the requisition and general expense form.

He also denied benefiting from the money and said he did not know what happened after that.

Puruno was charged with one count of misappropriation and one count of false pretence under the Criminal Code. He has been detained at the Mendi police cells.

Meanwhile, eight illegal directors of the Kutubu Local Level Government Special Purpose Authority would be arrested soon.

The eight are wanted for their part in operating an "illegal" bank account in which more than PGK2 million of SSG grants, meant for infrastructure projects in Kutubu , were deposited and drawn for personal use.

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