Steven Kalsakau Cleared Of Misappropriation In Vanuatu

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Justice finds no evidence for charges against former land minister

By Bob Makin

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, March 28, 2013) – The former Minister of Education (and prior to that, Lands), Steven Kalsakau, in a ruling of the Supreme Court, has been found not guilty of misappropriation and released from proceedings against directors of Tamau Trading Company Limited.

The Public Prosecutor brought charges in the matter against Steven Kalsakau and Yoan Kalsakau, the owners of 51% of the company known as Tamau Trading. Whilst the two Kalsaku brothers are major shareholders in the company, the remaining shareholding was owned by a Korean, Greg Soak Bae Koh (Greg Koh) who seems to have left Vanuatu never to return.

The case continues particularly interesting, with many facts not in dispute.

Willie Ben Karie of Belair Shipping handed over an amount of Vt24,500,000 [US$264,151] on 10 September 2010 as partial payment of an agreed price to purchase a barge called the Hamlin Ferry in Korea. Willie Ben Karie and his son went to Korea to advise on certain changes that needed to be made to the vessel before it could begin operations in Vanuatu waters. Upon their return, delays began.

The sale of the ship allegedly fell through. A second vessel, however, the Joto Ferry, was offered and Willie Ben Karie then paid for John Nasak of the Vanuatu Ports and Harbours office to fly to Korea to make an inspection. Various defects were found by Nasak. However, nothing happened to effect the alterations sought.

In February 2011, Willie Ben Karie then sought a refund of the money paid to Tamau Trading. He was given four checks of Vt6 million [US$64,690] each, all on the account of Greg Koh. All bounced. Willie Ben Karie then sought police intervention.

The facts also show that on the same day as the deposit on the ship required was paid into the Tamau Trading bank account, a like amount was also withdrawn from the Tamau Trading account and paid into the account of foreign exchange dealers, Goodies, for transfer elsewhere.

Justice Fatiaki was expected by the Public Prosecutor, in a matter allegedly involving misappropriation, to link the facts with the defendants, Steven Kalsakau and Yoan Kalsakau, misusing the money entrusted to them. Certainly in his ruling of 6 March, Justice Fatiaki was unable to do that in relation to the charge against Steven Kalsakau.

The legal principle of the separation in law between a company and its shareholders and directors had to be brought into the case. The Public Prosecutor had stated that the two defendants "have no excuse" as they have 51% of the company's shares "so it is vital to them as shareholders and members of the board to know how and what the money was used for as they were present at the negotiating stage."

However, Justice Fatiaki found no evidence to support the charges of misappropriation and obtaining money by deception as regards Steven Kalsakau. There was no paper-trail involving Steven Kalsakau, even though he attended meetings with his brother and Greg Koh and Willie Ben Karie in relation to the contract for the vessel. He was, moreover, at all times pursuing his work as a minister of government. The company, Tamau Trading Company Limited, used the postal address of Yoan Kalsakau, but did not have a business office or premises, had not paid VNPF dues and did not have the regular commitments of a normal office such as electricity accounts.

Defence counsel asked for a No-Case to answer ruling.

On 6 March, Justice Fatiaki ruled there was no evidence on which Steven Kalsakau could be convicted of the offence of misappropriation as charged by the Public Prosecutor. He therefore pronounced a verdict of "not guilty" in favor of Steven Kalsakau who was immediately released from the proceedings and thus enabled to attend parliamentary sittings.

The case against his brother continues. It is unlikely Greg Soak Bae Koh (Greg Koh) will ever appear before a court in Vanuatu.

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