July 23, 2009
East Timor Ombudsman Recommends Prosecution of Justice Minister
East Timor’s Ombudsman is calling for the country’s Minister of
Justice to be prosecuted, over allegations of corruption, following
calls from the country’s opposition for Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao
to resign, following revelations he authorised a multi-million dollar
rice-importation contract to a company linked to his daughter.
The Ombudsman says his office has launched an investigation into the
Ministry of Commerce and Industry over that – and a number of other
deals – authorised by Mr Gusmao.
Presenter: Stephanie March
Speakers: Sebastiao Ximenes, East Timor Ombudsman; Jose Ramos-Horta,
East Timorese President
MARCH: East Timor’s ombudsman Sebastiao Ximenes says corruption is a
serious problem in the country’s administration
XIMENES: The corruption in Timor-Leste, we can say that maybe the
problem is the control of our Ministers against civil servants, or
maybe the control from the top leader, to the minister, so that is
the problem we face in Timor Leste.
MARCH: Late last year, allegations surfaced that East Timor’s Justice
Minister Lucia Lobato had colluded with a friend in order for that
friend to secure a $US1 million contract to rebuild a wall at the
Becora prison in the capital DIli.
At the time Ms Lobato said she welcomed an investigation by the
ombudsman into the allegations.
She said she was prepared to face justice – without using her
ministerial immunities – if it found she was involved in any wrongdoing.
The ombudsman, Sebastiao Ximenes, has now passed on his findings to
the office of the Prosecutor General.
MARCH: So have you recommended to the Prosecutor General to prosecute
the Justice Minister or just investigate further?
GRAB: Yes, investigate further, and also to prosecute. Not only
Minister of Justice, we also found some companies involved in this
MARCH: So both the minister and the companies?
The Minister of Justice has not responded to requests by Radio
Australia to comment.
The recommendation follows recent revelations East Timor’s Prime
Minister Xanana Gusmao signed off on a $US3.5 million contract to a
company part owned by his daughter, Zenilda Gusmao.
The company – Prima Food – was one of 17 companies awarded government
contracts to import rice into East Timor.
Several of the companies are part owned by the wife of another
The contracts totalled $UA 56 million.
The opposition has called for Mr Gusmao to step down.
Mr Ximenes says his office has now launched an investigation into the
the circumstances surrounding the Prime Minister and Commerce
Minister’s approval of the contracts.
XIMENES: I receive a letter from Mr Ramos-Horta, the President of the
Republic, to request to our office to conduct investigation against
Minister of Commerce and tourist, that is why I mention we already
MARCH: President Jose Ramos Horta has conceded there’s a chance of
making mistakes when multimillion dollar contracts are signed by
Dr Horta has defended the Prime Minister’s role in authorising the
contract to the company linked to his daughter.
HORTA: I think corruption is serious in Timor Leste but I reject the
charges that top government officials are involved like the prime
minister. Tthe prime minister is a very very honest person, he wants
to do things fast.
MARCH: Sebastiao Ximenes say he hopes the investigation into the
issuing of rice-import contracts will be complete in two months.
But he says that depends heavily on cooperation of the government
officials and companies involved.
XIMENES: When our office invite them to come the office, sometimes
they have some excuse not to come… So that’s a problem that we face.
MARCH: Even if the investigation is completed in the expected time
frame and passed on to the prosecutor general, Mr Ximenes says East
Timor’s legal system already has a backlog of corruption cases.
XIMENES: The Prosecutor General already received from our office 28
case for corruption, but not one case they forward to the court…
but I believe the problem they face is manpower – no prosecutors.
MARCH: East Timor’s parliament recently passed legislation to set-up
an anti-corruption commission that would take on the role of the
Ombudsman in dealing corruption allegations.
The commission has not yet been properly established.