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Potape allegedly wrote himself a check for $27,000

By Todagia Kelola PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Nov. 2, 2011) - Member for Komo- Magarima and former Minister for Petroleum and Energy Francis Potape has been arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud the State and misappropriation.

Last night, Mr. Potape confirmed that he was arrested and added that he was out on 2000 kina [US$900] bail.

Mr. Potape was formally interviewed, charged and arrested by the Investigative Task Force Sweep yesterday.

Chairman of the Team Sam Koim said in a statement that an extensive National Anti-corruption Alliance (NACA) sanctioned investigation was conducted by the fraud squad after receiving complaints of financial mismanagement of public funds by the Komo Magarima District of which Mr. Potape was the member and the chairman of the JDP&BPC. Mr. Potape, together with the members of his JPB&BPC, have purportedly approved and paid themselves sitting allowances in excess of the amounts approved by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, of which the MP was paid the sum of 60,000 kina [US$27,000] on November 25, 2010 in his personal name in a single cheque payment from the District Treasury Account.

[PIR editor’s note: Meanwhile, former National Planning Minister, Paul Tiensten, yesterday vowed to return home from Australia to challenge corruption charges against him. He expressed his desire to return and complete his term as Member for Pomio in Parliament.]

Mr. Potape was interviewed on September 25, 2011, at the Fraud Squad office and the interview was suspended to allow police to collect further evidence which was done, leading to his arrest.

Mr. Potape is charged on the allegations of one count of conspiracy to defraud the State (Section 407 (1)(b) of the Criminal Code Act) and one count of misappropriation (Section 383A(1)(a) of the Criminal Code Act).

"The Criminal Process in Court has now commenced. As a matter of law, Mr. Potape is innocent until he is proven guilty by the court of law,’’ Mr. Koim said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Potape said he had nothing to hide and would prove his innocence.

"These investigations in relation to alleged misappropriation will only make me stronger," he said last night. I call on my people to remain calm because as such election is nearing and politics do happen due to political influence." He said he and the Local Level Government presidents through the JDPBPC had brought services to the province and this was a testimony of their hardwork. In relation to the allegations he said the operational costs incurred were the prerogative of the JDP&BPC.

"Running a district means money and we are privilege that our Provincial Government shows its support through this JDP&BPC. What was paid to me was allowances and operational costs to cover for the duration of the meetings, travels and services as required by the JDP&BC."

He explained that the alleged sum of K60,000 was incurred over two years.

"In every meeting presidents get paid too and so do I. "In one meeting I get K5000 (K2000 for airfares K3000 for operational costs for the duration of three months) and LLG presidents get K2500. We had six meetings in 2009 and six meetings in 2010," Mr. Potape said. As JDP&BP members we are required to meet, plan and carry out work and run the affairs of districts and LLGs. We need the money to use for operational costs," he said.

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