Former payroll officer jailed for defrauding the State

A former payroll officer has been sent to prison for stealing more than VT6.9 million during his employment with the government.

Keithson Liu was ordered to serve 14 months imprisonment by the court after he admitted that he stole the amount during his employment starting from 2009 up to 2012.

Liu, who was involved in paying allowances of public servants, was sentenced for making extra payments to his relatives employed by the Department of Education and those allowances were never credited and authorized.

After that he called the recipients of the amount informing them that he had audited the account of Ifira Trustees Limited and the company would compensated through their personal accounts.

Liu then instructed them to cash the money and hand it to him later telling the recipients that he is the finance officer of the government and it is a risk if the authorities would know that he was making another private auditing business apart from what he was doing.

The second trick was that Liu simply manipulated the government’s payroll by paying the individual’s allowances and other entitlements without authorization given by their respective departments.

After that he contacted the officers asking them if they had seen a difference in their pay and told them that was a system error so he issued another instruction to return the cash to him into the government treasury.

In fact he kept the monies and used them up and never returned any single vatu to the government.

While sentencing him this week, Chief Justice Vincent Lunabek said that when the Human Resource Unit of a government department approves their staff’s additional allowances or any other form of entitlement, the documents would be submitted to the payment section for approval for the salary supervising officer in Finance, the submissions will be passed on to the payroll officers including Liu to process the payments.

Liu himself is well aware of the process and had full knowledge that his work will not be verified so he took advantage of the opportunity and stole a considerable amounts of money for the Vanuatu government.

He involved seven of his relatives in this fraud who believed it was true for around three years when the matter came to light. But he gave them commission for using their accounts to compensate them for allowing him to use their accounts and for being able to trust them to return government monies to him.

The officers that live in Port Vila had to hand the cash to him in hand but those that live in remote islands were instructed to return the money through anyone who was travelling to Port Vila or they had to send via Western Union to avoid detection.

Chief Justice Lunabek said that Liu then applied for a substantial proportion of the monies for his own use and used VT10,000 to pay his sister’s tuition fees, and sent a good portion of the money to his father on Pentecost so that he will be able to make use of the proceed of his fraud.

The queries were raised after the finance section of the Education Department started noticing their staff constantly receiving salaries and allowances that were either higher than their respective grades or for which they were not entitled to.

When they followed up, they were told that Liu was the officer preparing their salaries.

A teacher who was on repaying a loan visited the department of Finance to collect her salary pay slip to see how much she already paid.

When the pay slip was printed she noticed that she received an extra allowance on December 24, 2010.

Being the payroll officer in charge of teachers’ salary the officer knew that an anomaly as teachers were not entitled to extra responsibility allowances.

When an audit was made in the system, the department discovered that the payment was made by Liu and the system showed his surname.

The superior was immediately notified and an email was sent to Liu to explain himself but when he read the email, he walked out of the office and never returned until to date.

During the police caution, Liu denied the allegation and remain silent and wished to speak in court.

During the sentencing submissions, the defense lawyer acknowledged the court that Liu is repaying the stolen amount by VT10,000 per fortnight and had repaid over VT3 million as of March 10 this year.

After his final assessment, Chief Justice sentenced Liu to 14 months imprisonment and gave him a grace period to visit his wife and his children before he was taken into custody.

His sentence started from July 2 on the sentencing date as he never spent time behind bars for the offending.

Liu was given 14 days to appeal if he was not happy with the court’s decision.

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