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Cablegate: Corruption Corrodes Ministry of Finance, Threatens

VZCZCXRO4981
PP RUEHGR
DE RUEHPO #0444/01 2321859
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 201859Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY PARAMARIBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9613
INFO RUCNCOM/EC CARICOM COLLECTIVE
RUEHAO/AMCONSUL CURACAO 1150

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PARAMARIBO 000444

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CAR FOR JROSHOLT; INR FOR BCARHART; EB FOR BETH
LAMPRON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KCOR NS
SUBJECT: CORRUPTION CORRODES MINISTRY OF FINANCE, THREATENS
MINISTER?


PARAMARIBO 00000444 001.2 OF 002


2003 PARAMARIBO 00531, 2005 PARAMARIBO 00589, 2007 PARAMARIBO 00120
AND 00131

1. SUMMARY: Authorities in Suriname are investigating a suspected
fraud conspiracy within the Ministry of Finance and possible links
to the Ministry of Education. According to Minister of Finance
Humphrey Hildenberg, employees in his Ministry have embezzled
approximately U.S. $375,000. The Minister does not appear to be
directly involved in the matter. He pre-empted the leaking of the
scandal to the press and negated an attack in Parliament by
informing media himself during a surprise press briefing. This
admission looked to exculpate his guilt in the affair. Even though
some have called for Minister's Hildenberg's resignation, this would
appear to be premature. Only Ministers proven guilty in the past
have actually resigned, and none so far has gone to jail. END
SUMMARY

-----------------------------
ADDING FIVES INSTEAD OF ZEROS
-----------------------------

2. The Government's Central Account Department (CLAD) has started a
financial investigation and the Prosecutor's Office will begin a
criminal investigation against sixteen individuals. Those involved
are alleged to have manipulated more than 52 invoices. Three of the
sixteen individuals were private contractors who provided goods and
services to the Ministry of Education. According to Minister
Hildenberg, the suspects manipulated the documents after the payment
was approved at the Ministry of Education but before they were
delivered to the Ministry of Finance. One example showed that a
contractor received Surinamese dollars (SRD) 55,250 (US $19,700)
instead of the SRD 250 (US $89) he was authorized to receive. After
the money was transferred to the bank accounts of the contractors,
allegedly the government workers involved in the collusion received
their share. According to Minister Hildenberg, his workers in his
Ministry have embezzled about 1 million SRD (US $375,000). However,
journalists reported finding official documents indicating that 1.8
million SRD (US $643,000) were stolen. One media source reported
the GOS was swindled out of 6 million SRD (US $2,141,857).

-----------------------------
PRE-EMPTIVE MOVE AND RESPONSE
-----------------------------

3. In response to evidence of fraud discovered by CLAD on August 8,
Minister Hildenberg decided to speak out to the media. He said he
was shocked that these fraudulent practices went unnoticed since
tampering with documents included using correction fluid and other
obvious irregularities. Opposition members asked how this could
have gone unnoticed and asked for assurance from the government and
its investigative bodies that all information will be shared in the
future and for measures to be taken to prevent this from happening
again. This is ironic as an official at the MFA told EmOffs that
Minister Hildenberg has a good reputation, and is considered to be
one of our best Ministers.

-------------------------------------------
DO THE BIG FISH GO TO JAIL? WELL, SOMETIMES
-------------------------------------------

4. Since the New Front Coalition came to power in May, 2000, several
financial and corruption scandals have erupted. In only one case
was there any punitive time served for corruption. Errol Alibrux, a
Finance Minister during the Widjenbosch presidency years, was
prosecuted and convicted for using government funds to purchase a
building for four times its value. He spent a few months in jail.
Otherwise, most cases have ended at worst in resignations or
dragged-out court procedures.

5. The former Minister of Public Works, Dewanand Balesar, also is
being prosecuted for corruption (REF B). He is accused of allegedly
awarding fraudulent contracts totaling US $34,000 to fictitious
contractors for garbage removal at illegal dump sites. Balesar is
also accused of using government funds to finance improvements to
his private home, while bills showed the work was done at the
Ministry of Public Works. In another case, fifteen of the
Minister's workers and contractors were sentenced to several months
in jail. The Minister is currently on trial.

6. In late 2005, then Minister of Justice and Police Siegfried
Gilds, was accused of money laundering in complicity with his
nephew, Andy Groenewoud, a convicted drugs dealer in the
Netherlands. In Suriname, two of the Minister's associates were
tried, leading to one conviction and one acquittal. Because of the
charges brought against the Minister, the President asked him to
resign in January, 2006. Gilds remains Chairman of Suriname's Labor
Party (SPA), part of the governing coalition.

PARAMARIBO 00000444 002.2 OF 002


7. In March of 2007, Alice Amafo, Suriname's Minister of Transport,
Communication, and Tourism came under fire after submitting bills
amounting to SRD 36,000 (US $13,000) to the Ministry of Finance to
pay for her private birthday bash. Minister Amafo resigned under
pressure but has not been prosecuted.

8. COMMENT: Whether Minister Hildenberg survives this financial
scandal remains to be seen. As a well-respected Minister, sentiment
seems to be running in his favor. However if the extent of his
direct involvement increases so may the call for his resignation.
Post finds it heartening that political scandal is not ignored in
Suriname. In the coming months Post will continue to report on
scandal and corruption, in part to identify areas ripe for GOS
cooperation with USG law enforcement initiatives to build capacity
in the region. END COMMENT

SCHREIBER HUGHES

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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