Public Report on the illegal issue of ordinary and diplomatic passports to Jian Peng Chen and family and misconduct of Prime Minister Serge Vohor, Former Minister Willie Jimmy and others – February 6, 1998 - Emalus Campus
This report deals with the issuance of 18 passports to Mr. Chen, his family and others. None were Vanuatu citizens or entitled to Vanuatu citizenship. Some, including Mr. Chen were issued with diplomatic passports. Others received ordinary Vanuatu passports. It also deals with gifts, travel and money which were apparently paid to politicians and other Public Servants in return for the passports.
Between November 1996 and January 1997, Mr Albert Kao made two payments “for the good and well being of the people of Vanuatu.” Mr. Albert Kao is a British citizen in Hong Kong and an associate or agent of Mr. Jian Peng Chen or of the Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Mr. Serge Vohor. The first payment was in the amount of US$100,000. The second payment was in the sum of $HK500,000 (750,000 vatu). The Ombudsman was unable to trace this money after it had been paid.
On January 23, 1997, the Prime Minister Mr. Vahor appointed Mr. Chen to be the Honorary Consul of Vanuatu to Macao. The Prime Minister had no statutory authority to do this. In any event, Honorary Consuls are only appointed when they are accepted by the receiving state. Portugal, the colonial power in Macao was the receiving state and had not done this.
On March 14, 1997, Mr. Chen and another man, Mr. Zha Fan Chen who was apparently the first secretary to the Honorary Consul to Macao received Vanuatu diplomatic passports. These passports were issued on the instructions of Finance Minister, Willie Jimmy to Mr. Japheth Tavoa, the Chief Protocol Officer with the Vanuatu Government.
The purported basis for issuing the Diplomatic passports to Messrs. Chen was the decision of the Council of Ministers (Decision number 144 of 1994) to include Honorary Consuls as among those eligible for a diplomatic passport. The Ombudsman’s report notes that the Council of Ministers has no authority to amend laws, which this decision purported to do. It is up to Parliament to pass and amend laws. Accordingly decision 144 does not alter the existing provisions of the Diplomatic and Official Passports Act which do not provide for Honorary Consuls to be granted diplomatic passports.
Between January and the end of March, 1997, Mr. Tabiusu, then Secretary General for the Council of Ministers wrote to Mr. Kao requesting gifts of a television set, video-player, fax machine, mobile phone sewing machines and several other items. Several items including a stereo, a sewing machine were provided to Mr. Tabiusu. The report notes that the receipt of gifts by Mr. Tabiusu in this manner is illegal and concludes that these appear to be related to Mr. Chen’s passports.
In late April and early May, 1997, Mr. Jimmy together with Mr. Sali, Mr. Roy Joy, Acting Director of Industries and Mr. Georges Maniuri, Director of the National Planning Office travelled to Hong Kong and Macau. The trip and accommodations were paid by Mr. Kao and Mr. Chen. During the visit to Hong Kong, Mr. Jimmy and others received gifts of a video camera and video cassette from Mr. Chen or Mr. Kao. Mr. Jimmy and Mr. Sali, in response to inquiries from the Ombudsman’s office did not deny receiving gifts but took the position that there was nothing improper about receiving them. The receipt of these benefits was in breach of the provisions of the Public Service Manual.
On June 25, Mr. Chen and his delegation visited Port Vila for the second time. He was provided with a driver from the Prime Minister’s Office. On June 26, at the Office of the Prime Minster, the driver saw the Prime Minister with a briefcase full of U.S. dollars and 5,000 vatu notes. The driver said that the Prime Minister showed him the briefcase full of money and joked with him about it. On July 1, 1997, Mr. Vohor made a deposit of US$15,000 into a personal account. Mr. Vahor did not respond to the Ombudsman’s correspondence and offered no explanation about these matters.
On July 1, 1997, Mr. Chen was issued a second diplomatic passport. The Prime Minister, by letter, directed the ostensible Chairman of the Citizenship Committee to grant Mr. Chen’s family and associates honorary citizenship and have passports issued to them. Ordinary passports were prepared on the instructions of Mr. John Mark Bell who had been directed by Mr. Sali and Mr. Tabiusu, secretaries to Mr. Vohor and Mr. Jimmy. Eleven passports were issued and delivered.
Evidence adduced by the Ombudsman’s office indicates that on July 4, Mr. Sali was delivered an envelope containing airline tickets for return business class fare to Sydney together with spending money for Mr. Jimmy.
On August 11, Mr. Chen and his delegation once again returned to Vanuatu. They were received by Government officials. Mr. Chen told Mr. Sali on the way to the hotel that the purpose of the trip was to obtain passports. On August 13, Mr. Chen met with the Prime Minister, Mr. Sali and Mr. Tabiusu. The meeting concerned issuing Honorary Citizenship to the Chen family and the issuance of passports. On the same day, Mr. Vohor exchanged $US10,000 for vatu. On the next day, he changed another $US10,000 through a third party. On August 14, 8 members of the Chen delegation were issued with Vanuatu passports, 7 of which replaced passports that had been issued on July 2.
On September 3, 1997 the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Vidal Soksok, his wife, secretary and another travelled to Hong Kong at the expense of Mr. Chen, ostensibly to look for investors. The Principle Immigration Officer, John Mark Bell also had a ticket to Macau purchased for him (for “investigation and vacation”) by Mr. Chen although he did not take the trip. The money for these tickets was paid through an account of the Harbourview Restaurant in Port Vila.
The Ombudsman’s report found that Mr. Chen has no legal status as Vanuatu’s Honorary Consul and that the ordinary passports issued to members of the Chen family are void. It also found that the Prime Minister Mr. Vohor, the former Finance Minister, Mr. Jimmy, Mr. Sali, Mr. Tabiusu, and Mr. Bell had all acted in an illegal and improper manner and breached the Leadership Code in various ways. All gifts and benefits received violated the Public Service Staff Manual and created a conflict of interest. The report notes the appearance of conspiracy on the part of Mr. Vohor, Mr. Jimmy and Mr. Chen in connection with an exchange of passports for money.
· That Mr. Chen return all of the 13 passports obtained by him for himself and his family.
· That Public Prosecutor investigate possible criminal offences committed by Mr. Chen, Mr. Vahor, Mr. Jimmy, Mr. Tabiusu and Mr. Bell.
· That Mr. Vahor should resign and not hold public office in the future.
· That Mr. Jimmy, Mr. Taiusu, Mr. Sali and Mr. Bell should not hold public office in the future.
· That Mr. Vohor, Mr. Jimmy, Mr. Sali, Mr. Joy, Mr. Maniuri, and Mr. Tabiusu should turn over to the people of Vanuatu all property received in breach of the provisions of the Public Service Manual.
· That the Council of Ministers should review the limit of its powers, specifically the limitation of its inability to make laws.
Written by Edward R. Hill
UNDP Governance and Accountability Project
© Ombudsman of Vanuatu
Published here by University of the South Pacific, School of Law Web Site - www.vanuatu.usp.ac.fj