With the intensifying of focus here in the UK on “professional enablers” – not least with the introduction of the new offence of participating in activities of organised crime group – it is salutary to read of a case involving senior lawyers in Papua New Guinea who have been advising clients on how to avoid detection when laundering money through Australia. A private investigator, working in May 2014 on behalf of anti-corruption campaigning organisation Global Witness, posed as a fund manager looking to invest in PNG, and approached the Port Moresby law firm Young & Williams, which is owned by Australian Greg Sheppard, who has lived in PNG for more than twenty-five years, and his local business partner Harvey Maladina. What has drawn the eye of Global Witness is the fact that several Young and Williams clients have faced charges of corruption. Enter the PI, complete with hidden bodycam.
Mr Sheppard – a lawyer, remember – is generous with his advice when the PI expresses concerns about politicians looking for bribes to facilitate land sales: “All those sorts of mobilisation fees really ought to originate from offshore. It’s something that needs to be handled very, very carefully; you’ve got to make sure it’s not going to be attacked as money laundering. If you were to pay seven figures to anybody, the world would fall in on top of you. Small dribs and drabs is the only way to go. Anyone who says seven figures, they are inviting prosecution.” Just to clarify, he adds: “I’m approaching it from a lawyer’s point of view – I don’t want to advise you to do anything illegal. It would have to be something that didn’t raise suspicions, something that was ostensibly commercial.”
Mr Maladina – also a lawyer, and the son and brother of local PEPs – is even more open, and suggests that one way to disguise the bribes might be through the inflation of legal bills: “If you engage us, we engage him. We do our bills, then you pay us, and we send his money off to Australia, to his Australian account. Normally if it’s through the [Australian] law firms, they don’t ask questions.” The time of no questions may be over: on 22 July, Peter Kuman, president of the PNG Law Society, confirmed that the society had appointed an independent inspector to analyse the trust account of Young & Williams over the past five years, and that the society’s statutory committee is looking into possible breaches of rules of conduct by the two men.
Both lawyers have strenuously denied all allegations, but the footage is there for all to see – it’s fifteen minutes long if you fancy a coffee break. Mr Sheppard, meanwhile, has said that filming another person without their permission is illegal. Yes, indeed, that’s the crime to focus on here.