BY JENNIFER KUSAPA
THE Director and sole trader of the One Link Pacifica money scheme has been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment by the Magistrate’s court.
This is the case of Charles Dora who pleaded guilty to one count of Unlicensed Financial Institution contrary to section 3(2) (a) of the Financial Institution Act 1998 (“FIA 1998”)against him.
Mr Dora was guilty for obtaining money from individual investors on separate occasions within a nine-month period in 2019 ranging from $250 to $95,750. Furthermore, the total sum of monies which were deceitfully obtained by the accused from the people who invested in the scheme within the said period totaled up to $56,440,475 which is a very significant amount to get from the ordinary and struggling people who invested their monies.
The court also heard that more than 90 percent of the total amount has not been recovered to date except for the $121,791.20 which was recovered from the defendant.
Principal Magistrate Felix Hollison in his sentencing yesterday highlighted that it is obviously clear that the defendant carefully planned to operate the scheme to defraud people by collecting monies and promising them with higher returns or profits within a certain period. He registered a business name to make it look reputable and authentic to the members of the public.
He said the circumstances of this case confirmed that the defendant fraudulently and unfairly obtained monies from the participants or members of the scheme under the guise of investment for the purposes of earning a higher financial reward. This turned out to be an outright deception
The defendant had taken advantage of the financial situation in the country to deceive and fraudulently fool people to part with their monies, exacerbated by the cargo-cult mentality normally promoted and perpetuated by the “quick get rich money schemes”, Hollison said.
He also said the present case is a regulatory offence where a legal entity (financial institution) can only operate a banking business if it has met all the legal prerequisites and has been issued with the relevant license in accordance with section 5 of the FIA 1998 Act, b y the rightful authority which in this case, the Central Bank of Solomon Islands.
“The cumulative total amount of more than SBD 56 million amassed by OLP is by any standard very large and for someone to have operated such a banking business illegally for 9 months is shocking and unacceptable. The proactive awareness and warnings issued by the CBSI as the regulatory body are commendable, and apart from obviously complying with section 3 (3) of the FIA 1998, it could have taken swift legal action and commenced civil proceedings in the High Court for injunctive orders against the defendant in his capacity as the sole proprietor and trader of OLP and his associates to halt the illegal operations. This would have militated against the financial losses that the members of the scheme now suffered. However, this is only a subsidiary issue that can be reserved for another day.
“I take judicial notice of the pyramid selling schemes apart from OLP which are reportedly increasing in the country and I warn the people who are promoting such schemes to stop misleading and victimizing the ordinary people. This case perfectly exemplifies the punishment that one can receive if he or she commits this offence and, in that regard, the supplementary submissions by the defence counsel this morning is acknowledged.
“The legislature may wish to consider whether or not the maximum penalty prescribed under section 3(6) of the FIA 1998 should be reviewed as it currently attracts only three years imprisonment as a maximum penalty.Some of the pertinent factors, amongst others, that can be considered for the purposes of law reform are deterrence, the amount of money involved in such crimes as manifested in this case and to keep abreast with the country’s ever-changing economic situation influenced by the rapid advances in technology coupled with the globalization of the financial services industry,” Hollison said.
Therefore, Magistrate Hollison taking into account the sentencing principles such as punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation, sentence the defendant Dora to 24 months imprisonment, and also made further orders that the period spent in custody is to be deducted from the total sentence.
Vernon Taupongi of the Office of the Director Public Prosecution appears for the crown while Deputy Public Solicitor Martha Manaka of the Public Solicitors Office represents the defendant.