BY JENNIFER KUSAPA
PRINCIPAL Magistrate Augustine Aulanga has convicted the former RSIPF traffic Director in the Honiara Magistrate Court yesterday.
This is the case of Charles Solomon Habatia a former traffic director who was charged and tried for one count of conversion, contrary to section 278 (1) (c)(i) of the Penal Code.
In 2016, he held a title of a Police Superintendent and was the Operation Manager for Honiara city.
By virtue of his position, he was responsible for the formulation, coordination and management of police operations of various departments or units in the Honiara city.
Before June 2016, he applied for a Solomon Islands government money in a form of special imprest of $24,000 from the Ministry of Finance and Treasury. The application was approved and the money was raised and paid to the defendant. It was purposely to fund police operations within the Honiara city.
Prosecution in their allegation said that he did not use the whole of the $24,000 for the police operations. Instead, he fraudulently converted and used part of it for his own benefit. This occurred between 3rd of June to 31st of August 2016.
The prosecution said the accused retired the money in a spreadsheet and attached a number of receipts obtained from individuals and business entities. In the imprest retirement, he outlined certain transactions for various police operations under different departments like; the Liquor Unit, Criminal Response Unit and Naha Police. However, the Heads of these departments were not aware of such engagement or transactions. Those receipts in the prosecution’s case were false. They were produced by the defendant to deceive the Solomon Islands government in the retirement of the money.
Meanwhile the defendant denies the fraudulent conversion of the money. He remained silent and called no evidence for his case. He ardently emphasized in his closing submission that he did not receive the money at all and further denied any wrong doing on his part. He argued that there was no evidence to prove the allegation and therefore, he should be acquitted.
“I am mindful of the legal requirement that even if the defendant remains silent, the onus is on the prosecution to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. If there is any doubt, the defendant must be given the benefit of that doubt.
“As I have mentioned earlier, the contested issue in this case is; whether or not the defendant has fraudulently converted part of the $24,000. In considering this issue, the following are the pertinent questions the court needs to consider. First, whether he converted part of the $24,000 to his own benefit. Second, if so, then whether or not he did so fraudulently and that is; (a) without the consent of the Solomon Islands government (b) knowing that he has no such consent (c) not honestly believing that he had any claim of right to the part of the money and (d) whether or not he intended to permanently deprive the Solomon Islands government of the part of the $24,000”, Magistrate Aulanga said.
Magistrate Aulanga said before addressing the question, it is pertinent for to make a finding on how much money out of the $24,000 has been used by the defendant for the police operations or its rightful purposes as established by the evidence.
“In my view, these receipts look so fishy and very suspicious. Despite they have the business stamps, they are not convincing, questionable and utterly dubious. They are simply against the logic in issuing of receipts to customers in any business transaction. No reputable businesses like Professional Taxi Services and Technology Plus would do receipting in such manner.
“Another serious matter is this. I have noted that receipt exhibited 20 and 21 were issued by Professional Taxi Services and Technology Plus. These are two different business entities altogether. A closer look at their receipt numbers will show that they both used the same receipt book. Leaf 29 (0465729) of the same receipt book was issued by Technology Plus while leaf 74 (0465774) was issued by Professional Taxi Services. Under no circumstances this could happen in any business.
“Two different business entity cannot use the same receipt book. One must be different. Viewed in this, the inference I can draw here is; these are false receipts made up by the defendant himself to suit his own malevolent purpose”, Magistrate Aulanga said.
Magistrate Aulanga said the accused knew very well that it was given to him for that purpose, yet he made a conscious decision to use it for purposes other than what it was intended for.
He did not have any bonafide claim of right over that money since it was special imprest money. His action therefore deprives the Royal Solomon Islands Police as an agent of the State or even the Solomon Islands government as whole from the intended police operational services that money was committed or allocated for.
“In the absence of permission or approval from MOFT, is this not fraudulent conduct? I don’t think so, and therefore, I am satisfied that the vast array of evidence presented by the prosecution has overwhelmingly showed that he had a fraudulent mind when dealing with the money and therefore, converted part ($21,700.00) of the money to his own benefit.
“I find the prosecution has proven its case beyond reasonable doubt and accordingly convict the defendant, Charles Solomon Habatia, as charged”, Magistrate Aulanga said.