By: Eoghan Olkeriil Ngirudelsang
Former Vice president and justice minister Antonio Bells wrote a complaint letter to Palau’s Special Prosecutor(SP) April Cripps regarding her handling of Exercise Tempest Wind 2015 audit. Bell’s letter urged Cripps “to do the right thing”.
The letter of complaint was lodged after a workshop addressing what Bells wrote as “the possible illegal handling and uses of $117,987.70”, was aired on radio.
The letter referred to a funding for Exercise Tempest Wind that was wired into a bank account belonging to Palau Enforcers Athletic Club that Bureau of Public Safety Director Ismael Aguon served as advisor instead of being transferred to the national treasury. Exercise Tempest Wind 2015 was a bilateral exercise between the United States Pacific Command (PACOM) and various law enforcement agencies of Palau.
In his letter, Bells argued why low-level officers, employees, and officials of state government who violate laws “are prosecuted but not high police officers who committed felonies”. “Are they only lectured but allowed to continue in their positions, what kind of future does this country face?”, he protested.
An audit report issued by the Public Auditor in 2016 said “the Exercise Tempest Wind was public revenue and therefore should have been deposited into the national treasury”. It added, “the Exercise Tempest Wind was deposited and administered outside the National Treasury in violation of the Republic of Palau laws”.
Meanwhile, Director Aguon maintained that this funding was not a grant and therefore was not required to be put in the national treasury. The same audit report also noted, “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.”
Bells asserted that “the public auditor, the treasury director, and personnel director made findings and recommendations of the audit report so clear in calling for criminal prosecution”.
In response to a question posed at this Wednesday’s press conference asking why the recent case of low-level police officers violating laws was pursued but Aguon, a high-level police officer was not charged, Justice Minister Uduch Sengebau stated that “SP as a prosecuting attorney has the discretion to choose which case to prosecute”.
Bells in his letter urging SP Cripps to “do the right thing,” said “I know as a prosecutor, you have the options of filing, settling, negotiating, or going to trial. But whichever you choose to do, I believe you would want your decisions justified. I plead with you to at least file serious ones and then settle or pardon or whatever you decide.”