By Paul Toohey and Michael McKenna
April 29, 2008 04:30am
EAST Timorese authorities have formally requested Australia’s assistance in uncovering details of a Darwin bank account allegedly held in the name of slain rebel leader Alfredo Reinado and his suspected lover Angelita Pires.
The account is rumoured to contain $700,000.
The request from Dili will allow Australian authorities to formally, and rapidly, release the information, if it exists.
President Jose Ramos Horta has alleged the account was created to wreak havoc in his country. He has linked the alleged fund to the shooting attack on himself and the attempted ambush of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao on February 11.
Mr Ramos Horta has demanded to know who was allegedly backing Reinado, who led an attack on the presidential compound during which he was killed.
If the money allegations were substantiated, it would likely lead to the immediate arrest and detention of Ms Pires, a joint Australian-Timorese citizen who is in Dili and prevented from leaving the country while investigations continue.
A spokesman for Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act required confidentiality from the Government and he would not confirm East Timor’s request.
However, it is known that East Timor’s Prosecutor-General, Longuinhos Monteiro, made the formal request last Monday.
Members of Ms Pires’s family in Australia have ridiculed the notion that she was in control of such an amount, saying the investigation will draw a blank.
There has been confusion as to how Mr Ramos Horta could have known the details of the alleged account, given that Australian authorities had not confirmed the fact.
The Australian understands Mr Ramos Horta had earlier been told in a meeting with Australian Federal Police and Mr Monteiro that the account did exist.
This information was allegedly gathered under a police-to-police “co-operation mechanism” between Timor and Australia.
Unlike the formal mutual assistance protocol, any information passed between police could not be used as evidence in court and was only useful as an investigative tool.
Ms Pires, who has not been charged with any offence and denies any wrongdoing, was taken in for questioning last week in Dili but was released after apparently having a mobile phone confiscated.
It is believed Timorese authorities have issued an arrest warrant for an Australian-Timorese businessman who is sought over his alleged connection to Ms Pires and the money.
The man grew up in Darwin but since 1999 has spent most of his time in Dili.
He has been described as having “gone missing” from the East Timorese capital and is thought to be in Darwin. He has not been seen in Dili since just before February 11 and has left his business in the hands of employees.
The man has not been answering his phone and friends in Dili are concerned.
The Australian has communicated with the man several times since February 11, on the basis of his friendship with Mr Pires. He was not forthcoming.
“We’ve been told the Prosecutor-General wants to talk to him about the whole thing,” said a friend.
“He was supposed to be one of the advisers to Alfredo Reinado. He’s one to stay out of trouble, to help in the background but not be in the forefront.”