EU AID SCANDAL TRIAL

Senior Government officials are among the key witnesses in the European Union (EU) Aid scandal trial which continues today.

The defendant in the case is Ex-Principal Aid Negotiator, Victor Rory.

Mr Rory who was also in charge of EU-funded projects in Vanuatuat the time stands accused of obtaining almost Vt15 million through deception, by getting eligible signatories to sign cheques before transferring the money off EU accounts to his company ‘Lamboung Edition and Translation’.

Today the court will hear the testimony of the Director General to the Prime Minister’s office Gregoire Nimbtik.

Mr Nimbtik was scheduled to testify yesterday but that didn’t happen as planned because the DG was abroad.

Report from the prosecution office claimed the DG arrived yesterday and should be available for today’s trial.

On Tuesday, Senior Policy Analyst within the Department of Strategic Policy and Aid Coordination (DSPPAC), John Ezra told the court that he was not aware of the existence of the Lamboung Edition and Translation company but in 2014, they paid Vt430, 000 to Mr Rory for work done on the translation of the Annual Development Report.

An agreement to release Vt430, 000 from the EDF 10, towards the translation project and have it reimbursed later was reached.

Ezra confirmed he and the former DG to PMO were the only two signatories to the EDF 11.

He said he was not aware the Lamboung Edition and Translation company belonged to Rory.

Mr Ezra also confirmed the defendant was the Principal Aid Negotiator within DSPPAC whose core role was to negotiate with donor partners for potential funding of projects.

Two staff from the National Bank of Vanuatu (NBV) have also testified in court. Sheren Tasso, a Teller at the Bank confirmed on January 11 2017, the defendant presented a cheque of Vt1.4 million at the counter to be deposited into his account.

Ms Tasso said she proceeded with the processing of the cheque but the message “invalid transaction” appeared on the screen. Ms Tasso then consulted her superior, Sylvie Pakoa on the matter. Ms Pakoa confirmed she collected the file and discovered the signature on the cheque which belonged to Mr Johnson Naviti did not match the one in her records.

According to Ms. Pakoa, she identified the cheque account was a closed one. She advised the defendant to get Mr Naviti to call her for further explanations on the cheque.

The following day (January 12, 2017) Rory returned to the bank with another NBV cheque for an amount of Vt400, 000. Ms. Pakoa confirmed the account on the cheque belonged to Rory. The cheque was made out to cash.

Ms. Pakoa informed court she called Mr Naviti to verify the information on the cheque to which he confirmed and advised for Mr Rory be paid in smaller installments.

Another key witness and also a signatory of the EU cheques, Bethuel Solomon who was working at the policy division under the Prime Minister’s Office at the time confirmed he was also an imprest administrator of EU Fund.

Mr Solomon said he moved on to work at the State House as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) some years ago and recalled that Mr Rory brought a cheque for him to sign.

He said he couldn’t remember if there was a pro forma attached with the cheque but recalled asking Mr Rory whether his signature is still valid on the cheque since he moved out.

He claimed Mr Rory confirmed his signature was still needed thus he signed the first cheque.

Mr Solomon said Mr Rory came back with another cheque later and he signed it again, under the impression that the projects are being progressed and the defendant should be trusted because he was a senior officer in his post for quite a long time.

Former Human Resource Manager Carol Samuel likewise testified, claiming she had signed some of the cheques brought by Mr Rory.

Patrick Rory also testified yesterday, saying he owned the Lamboung Edition and Translation company and had registered it under the Vanuatu Financial Service Commission (VFSC) in early 2000, but later gave the company to his cousin — Victor.

Most of the prosecution witnesses claimed to know the translation has been contracted once but Mr Rory allegedly went on to translate other projects that were never requested.

Yesterday defense lawyer Gregory Takau made an oral application, requesting an order to let his client access his former office, in particular the computer he was using during his employment with the government to get some documents to help their case.

He said they need to get the breakdown of cheques within the DSPPAC and Non-State Actors (NSA).

Justice Oliver Saksak ruled out the application, saying the matter should be raised during the pre-trial conference but now the case is halfway through trial.

He said it will also contribute to slow down the current process and agreed with Mr Young that the evidences were already filed.

Prosecution counsel Lenry Young objected to the application, claiming that all evidences were already produced in court before the trial.

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