On the 31st of March 2014 the PNTL arrested Lazaro Ribeiro (LR) in the suburb of Villa Verde in Dili. Among the items Senior Ribeiro was in possession of were 6 sim cards from various telephone companies in Timor-Leste and at least two sim cards from Indonesian telecommunications companies. The crime that LR has been charged with is fraud. Police allege that LR has, over the past four years, been selectively choosing targets and then trying to unlawfully to defraud them of their money.
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These deceptive activities have been mostly targeted at foreign embassies and development donors. Police allege that LR has, over this time frame, been creating fictitious organisations and projects which he has then used to try and gain grant money earmarked for development projects designed to help the people of Timor-Leste. It is very concerning that LR was allowed to carry on these activities for four years and even more concerning that he managed to gain a large sum of money from these activities as well.
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Over these four years LR has targeted the embassies of: South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and Japan in addition to targeting The European Union Mission to Timor-Leste and the Prime Minister’s Civil Society Fund. These requests for grants were usually between the amounts of $25,000 – $100,000 or as in the case of the Civil Society fund, a request for a new Motor Vehicle. Two cases are currently being investigated by the PNTL over alleged fraud cases involving LR of which FM cannot comment on at this time due to the ongoing nature of the investigation. There are also allegations that LR has also targeted the people of Timor-Leste, borrowing large amounts of money from ordinary people with the promise of paying it back at a high interest rate, and then never returning a cent.
First of all Fundasaun Mahein would like to congratulate PNTL in finally arresting LR. Left alone fraudsters have the potential to cause great amount of damage, not only to the people who they have scammed but also in terms of a loss in credibility for legitimate projects that rely on grant money to help improve the lives of people in Timor-Leste.
Fundasaun Mahein however would like to ask the PNTL to investigate this case of fraud further. From the evidence presented so far Fundasaun Mahein strongly suspects that LR did not act alone. For an operation like this, it is likely that LR had help at some point, if not from an organized crime syndicate than at least from a small network of accomplices. We ask the PNTL to continue this investigation and try and eradicate this network of scammers once and for from Timor-Leste.
Fundasaun Mahein also ask that all embassies and donors considering any grant proposals to take some time to ensure that the grant application is from a legitimate source.
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This will ensure any grants are to be used correctly, in their intended way, as well as discouraging any other potential fraudsters from trying to defraud the people of Timor-Leste.