An audit report issued by the Office of Public Auditor in 2016 on Exercise Tempest Wind has re-emerged, levelling accusations against recently appointed BPS Director Ismael Aguon.
“The Exercise Tempest Wind Grant was deposited and administered outside of the National Treasury in violation of the Republic of Palau Laws,” the report states. “Exercise Tempest Wind Funds were public revenue and therefore should have been deposited into the national treasury.”
“This is not a grant. This is US money to pay for the operation,” countered BPS Director Ismael Aguon, of the funds expended in 2015 Exercise Tempest Wind, a joint defense and security exercise between the United States military and Palau.
The audit report background information supports Aguon’s assertion that this was not a grant, and contradicted its own finding which said it was a grant. “Exercise Tempest Wind 2015 (ETW) was a bilateral exercise between United States Pacific Command (PACOM) and various law enforcement agencies of the Republic of Palau.” It further states, “The PACOM, Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC), and Pacific TF SOF MARITIME spearheaded and coordinated the exercise in consultation with the Ministry of Justice of the government of the Republic of Palau. The ETW was approved through exchanges of Diplomatic Notes.”
The audit did report that cost estimates for the exercise were prepared by then Acting-Director Aloysius Alonz, through the Ministry of Justice and transmitted to SOPAC for consideration. It then alleged that Director Aguon without approval of the Minister instructed SOPAC to wire funds to Palau Enforcers Athletic Club, which he serves as advisor.
Responding to accusations against him, Director Aguon asserts that the operation was spearheaded by the US side and that Palau BPS was assisting to ensure that the operation was successful.
According to Aguon, the US military initially was going to bring a check of nearly $200k and cash it here but “considering the operation and expenses already accumulating” they looked for other solutions. “BPS did not have a bank account. I asked our staff and this was not the first time that funds for scheduled donor projects that the donor financing the project has deposited to a non-government account. What I was first asked to do was have it deposited in my personal account like what previous directors have done. I said no way is it going into my personal account,” expressed BPS Director Aguon.
The funds were then deposited to an NGO account for Palau Enforcers Athletic Club.
“They specifically stated they did not want this money to go to finance and be subject to PR and PO processing,” said Aguon.
Furthermore, Aguon said that he was not a signatory to the account and that he only requested the NGO and its officers to assist the US side on this operation.
“The management of the money was always with the US money manager. That was why we thought that the NGO account could be the solution,” added Aguon.
In 2016, then Vice President Tony Bells sued Director Ismael Aguon, Attorney General John Bradley and Special Prosecutor Melissa Simms and officers of Palau Enforcers Athletic Club. The suit claimed that a fund from Special Operation Command Pacific, HQSOCPAC in Honolulu, Hawaii, granted for joint training exercise code named Exercise Tempest Wind was deposited into a non-government account and expended illegally, and that the defendants named above, “conspired to prosecute, injure and cause damages to plaintiff” (Bells).
Bells withdrew his suit a week after he filed it, claiming that it was done in haste and that it was an attempt to stop one of the defendants (SP Melissa Simms) from leaving the island.
There was no follow up after he withdrew his initial suit.
Shortly after his suit, the Office of Public Auditor issued its audit on Exercise Tempest Wind.
“Under Palau’s Compact with the US, US is responsible for Palau’s military defense. Tempest Wind was an exercise on how if our nation was under attack, how would that provision under the Compact look like. That was the first and so far the only time that we, the US, its allies and Palau have demonstrated and tested a full-blown exercise in accordance to our Compact Agreement,” explained Director Aguon.
Six years later, the audit resurfaced after Aguon was re-appointed to the position of Director of Bureau of Public Safety.