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U.S. prosecutors warn against pay for probe suspects

By Giff Johnson MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, April 19, 2011) - An order from the Marshall Islands Public Service Commission to resume paying two of six government workers suspected of stealing United States federal funds is illegal and threatens the flow of U.S. funding, the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) said in a letter obtained on Friday.

The AGO, which is prosecuting 10 people for the theft of more than US$500,000, was responding to a March 23 letter from the Public Service Chairman (PSC), Cent Langidrik and commissioners Lomes McKay and Raynard Gideon to Finance Secretary Alfred Alfred Jr. The Public Serivce memo said because Alfred had refused to re-start salary payments to two workers currently facing theft-related charges in the High Court, Public Service was considering penalties for Alfred to prevent his "unacceptable behavior" in the future.

Six government workers and four business people have been charged with theft of government funds. All the government workers were suspended without pay pending the outcome of the prosecutions.

Chief Prosecutor Tubosoye Brown, with the concurrence of Attorney General, Frederick Canavor Jr., issued a four-page memo Monday to Alfred, with copies to Langidrik and many cabinet ministers. Public Service’s reprimand letter to Alfred of March 23 "was unlawful and beyond the powers of PSC," Brown and Canavor said.

Brown and Canavor warned that if Langidrik’s directive to resume salary payments to some of the suspended workers is implemented it could result in the U.S. government halting federally funded grants to the Marshall Islands, which fund salaries for hundreds of workers. "We have been advised that a decision on the part of any Marshall Islands authority to pay or partially pay those responsible for the fraud (now on suspension) may jeopardize the receipt of (U.S.) federal funds," Brown and Canavor said.

The government’s top lawyers said Public Service’s directive also violated the country’s constitution that requires fair treatment. Government regulations allow workers to be suspended with or without pay and require that this be implemented fairly and not arbitrarily, Brown and Canavor said.

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