USDOJ joins effort to get ASG funds back from Vietnam
More than two years after $1.2 million in ASG funds were illegally transferred to the Vietnam International Bank (VIB), efforts are still being made to have the funds returned, with the latest indication from Congressman Faleomavaega Eni that the U.S. Justice Department (USDOJ) is now involved to return the money — soon.
This case first came to light in October 2011, following a letter from then Gov. Togiola Tulafono to the Washington D.C. based Vietnamese Ambassador to the U.S., saying on Aug. 31, 2011, “we suffered a cyber-crime attack that resulted in the fraudulent wire transfer of a large sum of money from our government account at the Bank of Hawaii to an account at VIB.” (The funds was federal grants for ASG).
The letter was also copied to Faleomavaega, who also received communication from then ASG Treasurer Magalei Logovi’i. In addition, there were other letters between the Congressman and Vietnamese officials, who were working with the FBI to have the money, frozen by VIB, returned to ASG.
Last year, when the Lolo administration took office, there were additional communications and letters between the Congressman and the new administration. These letters, which provided new information, not yet reported by Samoa News, were part of Faleomavaega’s Jan. 14, 2014 letter to Gov. Lolo M. Moliga, who told lawmakers on Monday the $1.2 million is also ASG money that is out there which needs to be collected.
Lolo said the Attorney General’s Office and Faleomavaega are working on this issue, which is expected to be resolved soon.
“The U.S. Justice Department is now working directly with Vietnam to resolve this matter and the money should be transferred soon,” Faleomavaega wrote in a Jan. 14 letter to Lolo, providing the timeline of events leading up to the latest update on this matter.
Faleomavaega’s letter, which was copied to all lawmakers, was included in a packet of 26 pages of communication going back to 2011, regarding this money. The packet was delivered Tuesday afternoon to the Fono, and one was given to each lawmaker so they would be fully aware of the latest update.
Some of the new information cited in Faleomavaega’s letter to Lolo was a May 1, 2013 correspondence from ASG Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ M. Pili requesting additional assistance for the return of the money.
Then in the following month (June), Faleomavaega informed Lolo that the “Vietnamese government had since informed me that the U.S. and Vietnam have no bilateral agreement in place for the transfer of the money back to the U.S.”
He said one option suggested to address this problem was for the High Court of American Samoa to “declare the money legal so that it could be transferred”.
Then in July last year, Faleomavaega said then Attorney General Afoa L. Su’esu’e Lutu informed his office the only way to obtain a declaration from the High Court was to commence an action against the Vietnamese government.
Afoa also noted that after speaking with Assistant Attorney General Michael Iosua, “he (Afoa) was aware that I didn’t want to file any action against the Vietnamese government,” Faleomavaega said.
In the July letter, Afoa shared his concern the High Court would “not issue a declaratory judgement or any order regarding ASG’s money without including the party who is currently in control of that money.”
“Therefore, in order to obtain the requested declaration, without including the Vietnamese government as a party, we have prepared a draft complaint and proposed judgement against Bank of Hawai’i,” Afoa wrote to the Congressman.
Afoa cautioned that BoH may choose to unilaterally move to include the Vietnamese government.
On Aug. 2 of last year, Faleomavaega informed Afoa about receiving the draft copy of the complaint; however, “I want to emphasize the importance and sensitivity of ensuring that the U.S.-Vietnam relations remain a priority in this matter.”
Faleomavaega also shared with Afoa the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington D.C. “has agreed in principle to accept a legal opinion” provided by the local AG’s Office on this matter, which should include a letter or statement of verification from BoH, certifying the funds belong to ASG.
According to the Congressman, this will avoid any legal action against BoH or the Vietnamese government.
AG’S LEGAL OPINION
The AG’s Office legal opinion, verifying ASG owns the money, states in part that on Aug. 31, 2011, “an unidentified computer hacker fraudulently and without authorization” transferred $1.2 million from the BoH Account of ASG to an account at VIB, owned by Golden Bee Company Ltd, a Vietnamese firm.
When the illegal transfer was discovered the next day (Sept. 1, 2011), ASG immediately notified federal authorities and BoH was asked to terminate the wire transfer, according to the opinion, which further states BoH was unable to prevent the money from being transferred.
It also says the Vietnamese government has completed their investigation and is currently holding these funds until it is verified the money had been taken from ASG’s BoH account.
The opinion also included an affidavit from BoH’s legal counsel Mark A. Rossi, who stated, “ASG’s posture was compromised by what appears to have been a sophisticated computer breach and surreptitious social engineering involving manipulation of ASG personnel, to obtain both ASG’s log-on credentials and one time security token password”.
Rossi confirmed the transferred funds belonged to ASG and BoH has cooperated with law enforcement authorities to return this money back to ASG.
In his Jan. 14, 2014 letter to the governor, the Congressman said he was informed last year by Lolo that Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop was expediting the preparation of the required documents.
Faleomavaega said his office on Aug. 18, 2013 was provided with the documents but they were “not properly notarized” and the letter from the AG’s Office “was a copy, not an original.”
“Vietnam was not able to accept these documents because BoH’s documents were not considered legal by any government’s standards,” Faleomavaega said and reminded Lolo the pair had an opportunity to discuss this, as did their respective staff.
“In the interim, while waiting to receive proper documentation, Vietnam informed my office last week that no other action is required on the part of ASG,” he wrote adding the USDOJ is now working on this matter directly with Vietnam so it can be resolved.