Man Jailed In Solomons $1.4 Million Fraud Case Says Others Used Him

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Government employees created scheme to steal from Health Ministry

By Assumpta Buchanan

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, June 26, 2014) – A man jailed yesterday for defrauding the state of more than $1.5 million [US$205,000] was just a "toy boy" used by others in a grand scheme that saw more than $10 million [US$1.4 million] stolen from the Ministry of Health.

John Poloso, 47, a taxi driver from Choiseul, was jailed for two and half years yesterday by magistrate Jim Seuika after pleading guilty to two counts of false pretence.

But his lawyer Emma Garo, of private law firm DNS & Partners, told the court in mitigation Poloso was just a "toy boy" who was used by other people within the ministries of Health and Finance to fulfil a well organised scheme.

"The commissioning of the offences is not initiated by the defendant," Ms Garo said.

"The defendant has no influences to the scheme, he is not a Solomon Islands Government (SIG) employee so that he had influence and power on decision making," she added.

Ms Garo also submitted that had Poloso would not be capable of committing the offences or could not succeed in committing them by his own making.

"Now that the toy boy, in this whole scheme of things is going to be and must be sent to prison for some time, a valid question that must be posed in this sentencing submission of the justice system, on behalf of Poloso is, will the big boys of the whole scheme of things be ever held to answer to the nation?"

Ms Garo said all Poloso did was simply registered Joke Shipping Services in his own name and submitted quotes for the tender and payment.

She also revealed that the internal report confirmed that the payments which were the subject matter of the respective charges against Poloso were in breach of and did not follow the tender process, and the financial instructions.

Ms Garo said this means that this scheme involved government officers in various ministries.

"For example, the payment compliance status printing in the sum of $716,467 within 45 minutes is unacceptable and unreasonable."

The more than $1.5 million Poloso was accused of stealing was part of a $10 million scandal uncovered in the Ministry of Health and Medical Service early last year.

The stolen funds were monies the Australian government injected into the ministry as part of its support to strengthening the country’s health system.

A number of officials from both the ministries of Health and Finance have been suspended after the scandal was uncovered.

Police yesterday welcomed the jailing of Poloso yesterday, who was the first to be charged and taken to court over the stolen funds.

A police statement said its investigations are continuing into the scandal and a second suspect will soon be brought before the court.

The statement said anyone with information on the matter is welcomed to talk to the police.

Police Prosecutor John Adifaka had earlier told the court the funds Poloso stole were those allocated purposely to assist rural health clinics and that the stealing involved sophisticated and premeditation planning.

"There was no record of recovering of the amount of money involved in this scheme," Mr Adifaka said.

He sought an immediate custodial sentencing for specific deterrence to deliver a powerful message that such offending is not to be tolerated.

The court earlier heard that in October 2012, the procurement unit of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MOH) received orders to proceed with the tender for the reconstruction of the Manuopo Area Health Clinic in Temotu Province, to be funded by Ausaid and the refurbishment of the Luananiua Area Health Clinic in Malaita Outer Islands on the same funding agent.

In 2013, the MOH commenced procedures for the transportation of materials to the projects venue.

Poloso then filed documents for the contract named ‘Joke Shipping,’ registered in May 2013 under his name as the owner therefore: in actual fact the business has no shipping facilities and has never shipped any building material."

The court further heard that there were two subsequent payments, $716,467.60 and $878,467.50 authorised for the two projects funded by Ausaid.

It was heard that Poloso collected the payments in June 2013 at the SIG treasury division and deposited to ‘Joke Shipping’ Bank of South Pacific (BSP) account and withdrawn the money.

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