But Fijileaks founding publisher and editor-in-chief VICTOR LAL was able to obtain the bank account and reveal the Cyclone Ami funds; we will do the same with Bainimarama-Khaiyum's unaccounted "Winston Fund" - so DON'T DESPAIR!
Where did thousands of dollars end up?
By VICTOR LAL
23 May 2008
A BANK ACCOUNT that was set up in the wake of the devastating Cyclone Ami in 2003 by the National Farmers Union under the leadership of its general secretary, and current interim Finance Minister Mahendra Pal Chaudhry, reveal that thousands of dollars was still not distributed to the intended cyclone victims as late as last year, and nearly five years after the fund was set up to help them.
A purported copy of the bank details sent to me anonymously read as follows: Account Number: CA 155728, National Farmers Union - Cyclone Ami Relief Fund, P O Box 2162, Govt Bldgs, Suva. The account number CA 155728 matches with the same bank account number that was circulated around the world following Cyclone Ami in the name of FLP leader Mr Chaudhry.
We were told to send our donations to the following person: Secretary, Mr Mahendra P Chaudhry, National Farmers Union. Account: Cyclone Relief Fund. Account No: 155728. Bank: Bank of Baroda, Suva, Fiji Islands.
Several individuals and organisations had emerged during and immediately after Cyclone Ami to launch an international money-raising campaign for the victims, especially on behalf of the Indo-Fijian cyclone victims. Three organisations, the International Congress of Fiji Indians (ICFI), the Mahendra Pal Chaudhry-led National Farmers Union (NFU), and GOPIO, the US-based Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin, were the most prominent in the collection of funds. The ICFI launched a campaign in Sydney, spearheaded by Dr Karam Singh, president of the Australian branch, and Dr Umanand Prasad.
“Dear Victor. It was sent to this address [Cyclone Ami Relief Fund]. We don’t have anything to hide. However, what you do, please do not bring an embarrassment to the Indo-Fijian community in Fiji, because the other side is always looking for such issues.”
GOPIO president Thomas Abraham, May 2008
Any assistance that we could provide would, therefore, be really appreciated, we were told. A senior member of the FLP has claimed that when Cyclone Ami struck, Mr Chaudhry was abroad. It fell on this particular parliamentarian to contact the FLP office in Suva. A female member of the FLP office staff provided him, curiously, with the NFU instead of the FLP account number listed above and the designated bank.
And it was to this bank account that many of us from around the world wholeheartedly responded, in the hope that the money would reach the victims. I had first raised the whereabouts of the Cyclone Ami funds in August 2006, and had sent Mr Chaudhry a list of questions, to which he is yet to reply.
The ICFI sent to me a detailed account of how much they had collected and distributed to the Cyclone Ami victims. The Congress had provided $300 cash each to ninety-four families to rebuild their homes and provided food parcels to 250 families immediately after the cyclone, it said.
Six members of the Governing Council of ICFI visited Fiji at their own expense and provided assistance. It must be stressed that ICFI’s contribution was independent of Mr Chaudhry and his NFU.
GOPIO also confirmed sending its contributions to account number CA 155728, with GOPIO president Abraham’s writing to me in July 2006: “Dear Victor: It was sent to this address”. However, Abrahams stressed to me: “We don’t have any thing to hide. However, what you do, please do not bring an embarrassment to the Indo-Fijian community in Fiji, because the other side is always looking for such issues.”
A perusal of the bank statements relating to CA 155728 on me reveal that a total of $258,287 was deposited into the above account, and $237,196 withdrawn. The question that can be asked of Mr Chaudhry and the NFU, on behalf of the Cyclone Ami victims, is as follows: what was done with $237,196?
"The obvious question is with the Cyclone Ami victims largely rehabilitated shortly after 2003, then why this account no CA 155728 was not wound up? Why is the money still sitting in the bank? What were the money coming in and the payments being made for three to four years after Cyclone Ami in 2003?"
Similarly, for 2003 and 2004, there was a combined deposit of $85,860 and withdrawal of $60,880. Where did this sum end up, it could be asked? If one were to exclude the $5,383 withdrawn in 2003, where did $55,000 end up in 2004 from the account?
Also, has the Cyclone Ami account ever been audited or presented to a general meeting of the NFU? There seems to be no list of beneficiaries who benefited from the collections ever published to any NFU general meeting.
The widely variant sums withdrawn, according to the bank statements, suggest the absence of any method or criteria for distribution to Cyclone Ami victims, if any, at all. The statements also disclose foreign transactions. There are other large cash deposits and withdrawals, raising questions whether some of the sums had been used for other unrelated purposes.
The obvious question is with the Cyclone Ami victims largely rehabilitated shortly after 2003, then why this account no CA 155728 was not wound up? Why is the money still sitting in the bank? What were the money coming in and the payments being made for three to four years after Cyclone Ami in 2003?
The large and regular withdrawals from mid-2005 to mid 2006 seems to coincide during the 2006 general election? What were the monies used for during this period?
According to reliable bank sources, Mr Chaudhry is allegedly the sole signatory to the Cyclone Ami funds.
The above figures exclude all the donations given to the FLP cause in person by dozens of party well-wishers in Australia, NZ, Canada, US and the UK
After his release from captivity following the 2000 coup, Mr Chaudhry was presented donations totalling $82,394.88 in functions held in his honour as Prime Minister in Canada and the United States during his visit to these countries in September 2000.
The moneys were donated to enable the FLP to pay for legal costs in relation to its High Court challenge on the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution following the Speight coup.
Similarly, we had donated in hundreds to the Cyclone Ami Funds, and therefore have the right to ask questions, and obtain answers from Mr Chaudhry since it was in his name that account number CA155728 was set up in the Bank of Baroda in Suva.
Mr [Simione] Kaitani said that Mr Chaudhry should first of all account for all the funds he solicited world-wide for displaced Indian farmers and their families who sought refuge at the Girmit Centre during the crisis of 2000, "before proceeding into another money-making venture." Again we see Chaudhry trying to personally gain from the waves of international sympathy towards the victims of Cyclone Ami.
The appeal currently being circulated through email by London-based pro-Labour supporter, Yusuf Roshan calls for monetary support to be sent to the National Farmers Union Account, No. 155728, Cyclone Relief Fund, at the Bank of Baroda. Mr Kaitani said that Mr Chaudhry should first of all account for all the funds he solicited world-wide for displaced Indian farmers and their families who sought refuge at the Girmit Centre during the crisis of 2000, "before proceeding into another money-making venture."
"Again we see Chaudhry trying to personally gain from the waves of international sympathy towards the victims of Cyclone Ami.
"Through his cronies like Roshan of the London-based Movement for Democracy, he has made allegations on the internet, that this Government is discriminating against the Fiji Indian community in rations distribution, and that Indian farmers can anticipate not receiving anything.
"This is an outright lie. This is also a slur on the hard-work of both Indian and Fijian public servants who are tirelessly involved in the recovery and rehabilitation work of the devastation caused by Cyclone Ami."
The Assistant Minister added that the allegation by Roshan that "even Red Cross officials appear to be discriminatory" is totally unappreciative of the international NGO's great work.
"The Fiji Red Cross was there to be with Chaudhry during his time as hostage in Parliament, providing him with the care and comfort he needed."
"Now there is an attempt to taint their good work for Cyclone Ami. It seems nothing pleases the Chaudhry camp, but only those who provide blind loyalty to him," the Assistant Minister said.