Prominent lawyer arrested and charged in PNG over involvement in alleged misappropriation and stealing of K268 million

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Members of the Papua New Guinea Special Police Forensic Criminal Investigation Team (SPFCIT), arrested prominent lawyer Gregory James Sheppard of Young & Williams Lawyers on Tuesday in Port Moresby.

He was taken to the Boroko Police Station, interviewed and subsequently charged with two counts of misappropriation and another two counts of money laundering in relation to his alleged direct involvement in the transfer of funds amounting to K52 million (US$14.8 million)

These funds were part of the K268 million (US$76.2 million) that were unlawfully withdrawn from the Western Province People’s Dividends Trust Account (WPPD TA) also known as Western Province People’s Dividends Community Mine Continuation Agreement Trust Funds (WPPD CMCA) held with the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (PNG) Limited (ANZ Bank).

The 65-year-old defendant from Perth, Western Australia, was previously brought in by Police in relation to the same criminal investigation and charged with two counts of conspiracy and another two counts of false pretense in January of this year. So far, the defendant has been charged with a total of eight offences.

It is alleged that on 15 February 2018, the defendant and his law firm were engaged by the Ok Tedi Fly River Development Foundation Limited (OFRDFL) as its legal representation regarding numerous civil proceedings that it instituted against the Independent State of Papua New Guinea (the State).

The defendant proceeded with the civil proceedings against the State and obtained Orders from the Court for its clients to become Trustee replacing the State’s Board of Trustees (BOT) to the WPPD CMCA TA held with the ANZ Bank.

It is alleged that after OTFRDFL became the Trustee to WPPD CMCA TA, the defendant actively assisted directors of OTFRDFL using the Court Order and liaised with officers of ANZ Bank and changed the signatories to the WPPD CMCA TA.

It is further alleged that as soon as the signatories to WPPD CMCA TA were successfully changed, two separate payments of K15 million and K37 million were paid out as legal fees on 17 August 2018, and 23 December 2019, respectively to the defendants, Young & Williams Lawyers Trust Account held with Bank of South Pacific Limited (BSP). The defendant is the sole signatory to the BSP trust account.

It is also alleged that the defendant with assistance from other lawyers from within his law firm (Young & Williams) communicated with the officers of the ANZ Bank and successfully facilitated the two separate payments amounting to K52 million into Young and Williams Trust Account held with BSP.

It is alleged that as soon as the defendant’s law firm was paid K52 million, the funds were then expended for other unrelated purposes than the original intended purpose of the WPPD CMCA TA Funds, which is to fund and implement development projects and programmes in the CMCA region in the Western Province.

It is alleged that Gregory James Sheppard released numerous unrelated transactions as sole signatory of his law firm’s trust account held with BSP to a number of unrelated companies and individuals. It is also alleged that the defendant transferred approximately K10.6 million (US$3 million) out of the K52 million (US14.8 million) to a company, namely, Mundi No.1 Limited which is solely owned by the Secretary for OTFRDFL, Samson Jubi.

It is alleged that Mundi No.1 Limited then made payments via online transfers to other directors and chairman of OTFRDFL from the monies that it received. Samson Jubi as the sole signatory for Mundi No.1 Limited facilitated the payments via online transfers whilst he was based in Cairns, Australia.

This is in breach of Section 7 (1) (c) of the Criminal Code Act 1974, in which the defendant aided the Secretary of the OTFRDFL by paying approximately K10.6 million (US$3 million) and in return the Secretary paid monies to the other directors and other parties.

Further, it is alleged that the defendant transferred K30 million (US$8.5 million) from the proceeds of K52 million into Young & Williams Lawyers’ other Trust Account held with Westpac Bank PNG Limited (Westpac Bank).

Police obtained a Court Order to search the law firm’s trust account held with Westpac Bank. The defendant successfully obtained a Court Stay Order and Police have not been able to establish how the defendant exhausted the K30 million (US$8.5 million) which is a significant portion of the K52 million (US$14.8 million). Police strongly believe that the monies contained in the Westpac Bank trust account have been depleted.

The money within WPPD CMCA TA held with ANZ Bank is only intended to be used to fund and implement development projects and programmes in the CMCA Communities in Western Province. CMCA Region is made up of 158 villages located along the Fly River Corridor.

It is alleged that when the sum of K52 million (US$14.8 million) was under the possession of the defendant’s trust account held with BSP, he exhausted the funds with transactions that had no direct correlation with the implementation of developments projects and programs in the CMCA Communities in Western Province, thus that amounts to misappropriation of those funds.

Members of SPFCIT travelled to Daru, Western Province a week ago to apprehend Steven Bagari who is the Chairman of OTFRDFL. However, Steven Bagari managed to evade the police net and is currently not able to be located. The SPFCIT team has appealed to the directors of OTFRDFL to make themselves available to Police to allow the matter to be fully investigated.

Commissioner Manning has directed Provincial Police Commander for Western Province and Police Station Commanders for North Fly District, Middle Fly District and South Fly District to assist with the Police Investigation currently undertaken by SPFCIT and apprehend the remaining directors of OTFRDF Ltd and turn them in to the Police.

The Special Police Forensic Criminal Investigation Team is headed by Police Commissioner David Manning and comprises RPNGC Detectives, a Forensic Accounting Specialist and Legal Counsel engaged through the Department of Justice & Attorney General.

SOURCE: PNG GOVT/PACNEWS