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Major fraud investigation moves into high gear

Local pharmacy, govt ministries under probe

New Year’s Eve is normally the time for popping champagne bottles and partying into the wee hours. There was plenty of that in the Marshall Islands. But in an unprecedented government action, law enforcement officers in Majuro, wielding court-approved search warrants, descended on a local pharmacy and medical supply company, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance’s procurement and supply office on New Year’s Eve, confiscating computers, thousands of documents and other records in what looks to be the most massive fraud probe in the 34- year history of Marshall Islands’ constitutional government. The target is suspicious bids involving hospital equipment and supply orders, which routinely run into the millions of dollars annually. The Auditor-General and law enforcement personnel say they suspect government workers in the Ministry of Health and elsewhere were accepting bribes in exchange for awarding lucrative contracts for hospital needs. While the investigation played out in the first three weeks of January—including reported visits by investigators to Majuro Hospital inventorying equipment purchased through suspicious bids, some of which sources said could not be found.

Unprecedented step: The head of the Public Service Commission Marie Maddison was joined by President Christopher Loeak in notifying government departments that they were taking the unprecedented step of putting the government’s Chief Secretary in charge of the Ministry of Health. The appointment of Chief Secretary Casten Nemra as Interim Secretary of Health through February 15 underlines the gravity of the problems at the ministry.

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