PNG BANKER ARRESTED IN MUSEUM EMBEZZLEMENT

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Bank South Pacific manager in alleged $66,149 conspiracy

By Todagia Kelola PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Sept. 26, 2011) – In Papua New Guinea, the long running battle between the management and the Board of Trustees of the National Museum and Arts Gallery (NMAG) has taken another turn.

This time a senior banker with the Bank South Pacific has been arrested by police and charged with allegedly authorizing the debiting of funds belonging to the National Museum and Art Gallery to other unauthorized accounts.

The General Manager of Paramount Banking, Aho Baliki was formally arrested and charged last Thursday with conspiring with others to defraud the National Museum and Art Gallery by fraudulently debiting 149,400.97 kina [US$66,149] and crediting it to several different accounts, thereby contravening section 407

Baliki, 56, from Okiufa village in Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province, was once the head of the PNG Banking Corporation before its merger with Bank South Pacific.

He was arrested and charged last Thursday after a complaint was laid by the Director of the National Museum and Art Gallery Meck Kuk

Kuk’s complaint to police was that members of the Board of Trustees of the National Museum and Art Gallery that were suspended by the former Minister for Culture and Tourism, Guma Wau, and eventually terminated, had conspired with Baliki to authorize five financial transactions which took place on the accounts of the NMAG, account number 1000583787, which were deemed illegal.

He had stated in his complaint that there was an unlawful restriction and illegal transfer of funds from the accounts of the National Museum and Art Gallery by its Board of Trustees.

[PIR editor's note: The PNG National Museum and Art Gallery has been in trouble for months. In August, lack of access to funds necessary for the running of the museum and the preservation of artifacts was cited by Kuk as being a cause to shut the museum down and risking the condition of the many priceless objects it holds. At that time, neither Baliki nor Violaris allowed for museum staff to access funds to pay bills without going through one of two middlemen under Violaris, one of whom is the CEO of Telikom PNG, Peter Loko.]

Under the Public Finance Management Act, it is not proper for Trustees of any State Institution to be signatories of any operational account. That authority is solely vested on the Director/ CEO who is accountable to the Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee for expending the State’s budgetary allocation for the day to day running of the National Museum and Art Gallery

The whole situation came about when the entire Board of Trustees led by its president, Julius Violaris, disputed the appointment of Kuk by the National Executive Council in May this year and took control of the museum’s bank accounts.

Both the former Minister for Culture and Tourism, Guma Wau and Kuk wrote to the BSP, informing the bank of the serious impact on the operation of the museum and urged it to allow the museum to access funds but the accounts were still not accessed by the administration. President of the board, Julius Violaris, when contacted last night said all payments of accounts from the NMAG were paid to legitimate creditors of the museum.

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