Public Report on the improper and unlawful issue of diplomatic and official passports to “Honourary Consuls”, “Trade Commissioners” and other “Special” Vanuatu representatives and Ministerial “Advisors” – March 13, 1998 - Emalus Campus
Since 1993, there have been approximately 30 diplomatic and 40 official passports issued to various foreign nationals and their spouses who were not properly appointed to official positions. The great majority of these appointees:
· Have never been approved in the receiving country and are thus invalid
· Have never done any work for Vanautu citizens or interests overseas (in many cases they are not citizens of and have no interests in the countries to which they were appointed).
· Have never submitted reports as directed in their letters of appointment (where this requirement was imposed).
Little or nothing is known about many of the persons who received these passports. The Department of Foreign Affairs did not even have a record of addresses of some of the appointees and had to resort to their departure cards from the airport. The appointees have no demonstrated skills or qualifications to carry out bona fide duties as Consul or Trade Commissioners.
Several of the appointees had been issued similar passports in Nauru a week before being issued with Vanuatu passports. Most do not live in the country to which they were appointed. One person was appointed as Honorary Consul to “Asian Countries”. Another was appointed to the “Middle East.” Several were given official sounding titles the meaning of which, if any is unclear. These include “Promotion Director”, “Public Officer”, “Special Advisor” and “PM Special Representative”. The Consular Relations Act makes no provision for the issue of diplomatic or official passports to Trade Commissioners or Honorary Consuls. In any event, the appointment of such persons would not become effective until the receiving State agrees and accepts the nomination.
These appointments were not shown to meet the criteria set out in Schedule 1 to the Diplomatic and Official Passports Act. The only possible criteria is in the case of diplomatic passports where “exceptional circumstances apply.” No exceptional circumstances were evident in any of the appointments.
Several Government Ministers were responsible for the appointments – Mr. Maxime Carlot Korman, Mr Serge Vahor, Mr. Willie Jimmy and Mr. Vidal Soksok. The Ombudsman inquired into the question of why the improper passports were issued. No legitimate reason was evident. Although the report does not categorically attribute it to corruption, the Ombudsman identified a number of links between the Ministers involved and some of the recipients of the passports. For instance, Mr. Korman is referred to in a letter from Mr. Wong Sing Wa, the Vanuatu Trade Commissioner in Hong Kong”. In it Mr. Wong refers to 2 contributions totalling US$30,000 which he contributed to Mr. Korman’s election campaign. Reference is also made to the Public Report on Cyclone Betsy, February 26, 1998 and the evidence that Mr. Korman requested in writing that Trade Commissioners, Special Representative and Honorary Consuls pay a total of US$55,000 into his personal overseas account.
Mr. Vohor did not deny an allegation that Mr. Wilson Hilhong Lickie Yam, the “Honorary Consul to Malaysia” paid the sum of $US5,000 to him. Mr. Yam was issued with 3 passports in 1994, 1995 and 1996.
Mr. Jimmy personally benefited from gifts made by a Mr. Chen, the Honorary Consul to Macau.
Mr. Soksok attempted but failed to deposit into his personal account a cheque drawn on the International Commercial Bank of China in the sum of US$15,000 payable to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration.
Mr. Sope ordered the issue of a diplomatic passport to Peter Swanson who was subsequently convicted of 7 counts of fraud related offences in connection with the US$100,000,000 bank guarantee scam. (see report dated July 3, 1996) He was also involved with the Council of Ministers decision to grant a power of attorney on behalf of the Republic of Vanuatu to Mr. Armoury Groenen, Vanuatu’s “Special Trade Representative to the Middle East.”
The former Director of Foreign Affairs, the person with statutory authority to issue diplomatic passports acted incompetently or corruptly in issuing the passports on the instructions of the Ministers.
· That Messrs. Korman, Vohor, Jimmy, Soksok and Sope not be re-appointed as Ministers and not hold positions of public responsibility.
· That Parliament pass a Leadership Code Act.
· That the Public Prosecutor with the assistance of the police investigate whether criminal charges should investigate possible offences of bribery and corruption.
· That the Public Service Commission conduct a disciplinary hearing into the issuance of the passports.
· That the Department of Foreign Affairs, acting under the advice of the Attorney General require the return of passports for which no approval letter is held from the receiving country.
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