THE teacher accused of embezzling $1.3 million of the Solomon Islands Government (SIG) in 2017 and 2018 had been acquitted of the offence.
Cecilia Samani Tome had been tried by paper than calling of witnesses for one count of embezzlement by servant.
Her lawyer then made a no case to answer submissions after prosecution filed their evidences.
Principal Magistrate Tearo Beneteti in her ruling said because of all analysis provided based on all the evidence exhibited and submissions filed by both parties, she was of the view that the prosecution had failed in many aspects to sufficiently provide evidence at the stage of “No case to answer application”.
“Their evidence is confusing as exhibits say one thing and certain amounts while Prosecution submissions say a different amount,” Magistrate Beneteti said.
She added that it is clear on the evidence that Tome still received her fortnight salary throughout the time from the error payment dates in December 2017.
She said all these as stated in court during the “No case to answer application” hearing date, brought more confusion than clarity to the accounting of all the monies involved in this matter.
Ms. Beneteti also said that the prosecution has provided an alternative charge to the embezzlement of larceny, which was larceny.
“However, I am still not convinced. I have sufficient evidence before me to for the alternative charge.
“This is the element of taking the money to deprive the owner from the money permanently.
“My detailed explanations in this ruling on this area and issue should be enough to assist in explaining further how and why I would still find this not to be made out sufficiently as well,” she said.
According to the prosecution case, two large payments were made over pay period one and pay period two in December 2017.
The payments totaled up to more than $3millon were made to the ANZ account held and operated by Tome.
The prosecution is alleging that Tome embezzled $1.3 million which she used for her personal benefit after she was mistakenly paid $3, 806, 297.77 million dollars.
The prosecution also alleged that Tome never reported the big amount in her personal account.
The Defence’s argument was that prosecution failed to explain and highlight clearly Tome’s actions that is fraudulent in nature in all the transactions of the whole matter.
Ms. Beneteti said the defence case analysis shows that the innocence of Tome and her role in not doing anything at all in all the transactions cannot be right and fair to then blame her for being fraudulent in her dealing especially when she received and used the money from and through her own personal bank account.
She said this failure of prosecutions makes it a weak case for them as this element of offending is already absent and is not sufficient in their view and the court therefore must rule in their favour.
In her ruling, Ms. Beneteti said Tome was clearly on evidence not in control or have management role over the monies she has been alleged to have fraudulently embezzled from her employer (SIG).
“She is totally innocent from any wrong doing in relation to how the monies got to her custody and into her personal account.
“In addition to this, it must be noted that Salary is a free entitlement.
“In other words, this means that salary is free money employees receive to freely use.”
She further added that Tome was actually never certain where the extra and huge money came from.
She said Tome had a Bishop LOFT she thought may have sent her the money as he looked after her when she was young and his family in New Zealand promised that they will send money to assist her.
According to her Record of Interview, she was also asked about some deposits made into her account apart from her continuous fortnight salary and the erroneous payment by MOFT which she said were from her husband to assist her.
“The amounts also vary from few hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars.
“This is not only a few deposits.
“They are numerous and can be identified through the Record of Interview.
Magistrate Beneteti said therefore it would reasonably be unknown to her as to where this excess money came from at the relevant time she came to find out.
She said there is also no evidence present before her to show sufficient evidence that Tome received the pay slips on the two fortnights payment she received the error payments.
She said no prosecution witness or exhibit disclosed this to assist her to know that Tome has been made aware that the money was mistakenly paid into her account by the Government through MOFT at that time but then she ignored that information and continued using the money.
“She was only shown these during the Record of Interview which she then acknowledged that she should be deducted her salary to recover the monies mistakenly placed in her account according to the Teachers Code of Conduct.”
Magistrate Tearo said the error payment began with the a payroll staff who input wrongly the details on aurion (the payroll system to make payments for public services within the Government sector).
It was heard that instead of putting in the amount sent from Ministry of Education for Tome, he mistakenly put the date from which the back payment should start run for Tome (rightful way of putting it in accordance to the aurion system)
The error was that the date was inserted than the amount that should be paid into Tome’s account.
Magistrate Tearo said unfortunately the senior staff checked this and allowed it to progress.
She said surprisingly, the payroll staff was terminated for the error made on the two occasion but others did not.
“Clearly they all played a major role each and respectively in being negligent with the way they input information on the system and therefore should all equally be held accountable as well.
“Unfortunately this was not the case.”
She said to make matters worst, the Government (MOFT and Ministry of Education) never noted this until Tome’s colleague raised questions to the Ministry of Education based on how she observed Tome having so much money to spend.
“This eventually got to the Payroll Section (the place where the error payment was made).
“The officers there realised the wrong committed within their office and they proceed from there to try and retrieve the mistaken payments to the defendant.”
Magistrate Tearo also added that salary is a personal private property of individuals as these are entitlements.
She said when such matters are erroneously done, in her view administrative arms should step in to remedy the situation especially when employees are clearly not doing anything illegally to get higher payments as seen in this matter.
“In this matter the defendant has no role or position to manage the error salary payment (huge money) she received from Payroll.
She said Tome never did anything or influence anyone to get the error payment as clearly testified in the evidence of two prosecution witness.
“This is why I cannot find sufficient evidence by prosecution to indicate she performed any act of embezzlement or fraudulent manner according to the elements assessment of her charge.
She also said that when SIG through the relevant officers from MOFT ordered the bank to return all of the defendant’s left over money in her two bank accounts, these became clearly illegal and erroneous.
Magistrate Beneteti said this is because these are private personal accounts and therefore proper analysis should have been made to demarcate the monies in Tome’s account and have forensic accountants or experts who can demarcate legitimate monies and the erroneous payments in a personal bank account so they can have a clearer and properly calculated amount.
She said it would have assisted the court better if this was properly analysed, calculated by experts and advanced in court for consideration based on the charge laid against Tome.
“The absence of this has caused more doubt on my mind as to how to deal with this aspect of the facts of transaction of what had transcribed (mixture of erroneous payments and personal monies placed in a personal bank account of an offender.)
Rodney Manebosa of Public Solicitor’s Office represented Tome.
By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN BONGIDANI