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Marshalls cabinet rejects U.S. offer to assist

By Giff Johnson MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, March 1, 2011) - Opposition senators in the Marshall Islands want United States federal investigators to assist local investigations into the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars in American grant funding.

The resolution is responding to cabinet rejections of U.S. offers to assist the investigation, which so far has led to criminal charges being filed against 10 people, including six in government for the theft of about US$540,000.

"There are many in Nitijela (parliament) who do not share the cabinet’s position that we do not need assistance from the U.S. government or specifically the FBI to investigate corruption issues in the Marshall Islands," said Kwajalein Sen. Tony deBrum, one of four introducers of resolution 87 that was passed on first reading and is waiting for a public hearing before the parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Responding to a high-level U.S. Interior Department official last week, Justice Minister Brenson Wase said, "I truly believe we have the means and capability to handle this and seek your patience and understanding as our law enforcement and regulatory authorities continue to advance forth with their investigation, prosecution and recovery efforts." He said the government plans "to expand the scope of this investigation to cover other government funds."

Government officials involved in the investigation in Majuro, however, say that they need help because they have no trained forensic accountants and few investigators to manage the massive investigation in fraud.

The resolution now pending in parliament points out that the Marshall Islands government has rejected both the U.S. government offered to send in federal investigators and its suggestion that the Marshall Islands engage independent experts to help.

Because the Marshall Islands government’s "refusal to accept the offer may create loss of confidence in the Marshall Islands government with the U.S. government and other aid donors, result in the U.S. government withholding federal funds, (and) create unacceptable anonymity and suspicions for the Marshall Islands government in dealing with issues relating to corruption," the resolution calls on the cabinet to accept the U.S. offer to provide federal investigators or any independent investigators to assist the ongoing probe of fraud in the country.

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