By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA: WEDNESDAY 5 AUGUST 2015: The $100,000 remitted to an account in Thailand was unlawfully done as its was done without following proper procedures when making overseas transaction.
The procedure according to Central Bank of Samoa (CBS) Assistant Governor Benjamin Pereira, is to get an approval from CBS after CBS accesses the transaction and reasons behind any transaction.
However, the transaction made from Samoa to Thailand by one of the co-defendants of the three people accused in the alleged pyramid money making scam, did not go through the procedure explained by Pereira.
Pereira was giving evidence in the court case against the three defendants yesterday.
He said CBS met and discussed issues pertaining to the presentation given by the three defendants who are representatives of the UFun Group.
He said CBS was not aware that $100,000 was already remitted to a UFun Group account in Thailand until Papua Schmidt, CBS’s marketing manager informed him a few days after the meeting, that a transaction to an overseas account had already been made.
CBS was also unaware that there were local investors until the accused informed them at one of their meetings about the local investors.
“Before any capital transaction to overseas be done, an approval by the Central Bank of Samoa is needed.
“It’s the same with payments of any foreign loans, CBS needs to approve all transactions between the overseas company and the local people before any funds are remitted,” Pereira explained.
The three defendants were originally charged with 7 counts of receiving money by deception but 5 have been withdrawn and the hearing on the 2 remaining charges started yesterday.
Meetings between CBS & UFun Group representatives
The first meeting between CBS and UFun Group representatives took place on the 14th May 2015 after CBS Governor asked Pereira to arrange the meeting.
“On that meeting, the defendants did a presentation on what UFun Group is and its role in increasing financial benefits for investors,” said Pereira.
The meeting ended with the defendants promising to provide the required detail documentation regarding UFun Group to CBS.
“The requirements include the investment’s name, amount of investment and contact details,” said Pereira.
By the 20th May 2015, there was still no word from the defendants regarding the required documents which prompted CBS Governor to send an email to the Managing Director of ANZ Bank advising them to freeze any funds under the names of the three accused.
However, ANZ informed CBS that two transactions had already been made overseas on the 18th and 19th May 2015.
On the 21st May 2015, CBS sent an alert to all local commercial banks and money express companies to refer any transactions under the defendants’ names to CBS.
CBS’s action prompted a visit by the defendants asking for a meeting which was granted.
That meeting according to Pereira was between the defendants and 6 members of the management team and the defendants were told by CBS solicitor Gafatasi Patu, to return the investors’ money to which the accused said they would do.
However, as of yesterday, the investors alleged money are still in the UFun Group account in Thailand.
Presiding Judge Chief Justice (CJ) Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu asked Pereira if he knew why the funds were remitted.
“To buy the UToken packages promised to the investors,” said Pereira.
CJ Patu also wanted to know the difference between UFun Group and UToken.
“UFun is the company that sells UToken packages to investors which promises a tenfold more increase of the investors’ funds by the 31st July 2015,” said Pereira.
Pereira told the Court that the defendants were also told on that meeting not to use the pictures of Government officials for any marketing purposes.
Defence lawyer’s argument
Defence lawyer Leota Raymond Schuster argued that the remitted funds to Thailand were from one of the defendants personal account, not the investors monies.
He said prior to the defendant’s arrival, he sold his ‘activation point” or shares and monies from the sale were in the defendants personal account.
Leota also said that the directive to commercial banks and money express companies were based on suspicious only.
“There were no concrete evidence to support their directive,” said Leota.
Leota also raised issues on CBS’s slackness in conducting a proper investigation.
According to evidence given by Mrs Schmidt, CBS did not question the ownership of the money remitted nor asked about the transaction.
The onus of proof is on CBS who were only acting on a suspicious theory, said Leota.
Background on case
The defendants all reside overseas and are members of the UFun Group.
In May 2015, they made presentation to several financial institutions and later recruited several business people as investors.
CBS acting on their belief the defendants are part of a pyramid scam scheme requested a stop order which was later activated at Faleolo International airport to stop the defendants from leaving the country.
They have since appeared in Court and an interim order to suppress publication of their names was issued last month.
The hearing continues today.