Vila Times

Barnabas Tabirupmel’s first win in a legal battle

Barnabas Tabirupmel’s first win in a legal battle
Barnabas Tabirupmel’s first win in a legal battle
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Barnabas Tabirupmel of Pentecost, trading as owner of Salin Shipping Services, has won the legal battle against the former CEO of the shipping company and five crew members who claimed he had not paid them according to their employment contract and labor laws.
On 2nd August, the Supreme Court of Vanuatu dismissed and struck out the civil case No. 2698 of 2017, involving Macdonald Bule, Thompson Massing, William Rarua, Kinsley Elong, Jean Belaga Virelili and Patrick Korikalo as claimants, and Barnabas Tabirupmel as defendant.
In his ruling, Justice Oliver Saksak said he was satisfied with the arguments of the defense counsil represented by Roger Tevi, that the lawyers representing the claimants have failed to meet the requirements under Rules 9.10 (1) and (2) of the Civil Procedure Rules No. 49 of 2002.
Rule 9.10 (1) and (2) states:
(1) This rule applies if the claimant does not:
(a) take the steps in a proceeding that are required by these Rules to ensure the proceeding continues; or
(b) comply with an order of the court made during a proceeding.
(2) The court may strike out a proceeding:
(a) at the conference, in the Supreme Court; or
(b) at a hearing; or
(c) as set out in subrule (3); or
(d) without notice, if there has been no step taken in the proceeding for 6 months.”
Justice Saksak gave a brief summary of events which led to the dismissal of the case:
On 8th June 2018, the defendant served an application for an order to strike out the claimants’ claims filed on 25th September 2017. The judge considered that the application was successful and the orders sought therein were granted.
The defendant relied on the evidence of Counsel Roger Tevi filed in support of the application on 8th June where it was stated that the claimants have repeatedly failed to comply with the Court’s direction issued on 3rd November 2017 and again on 9th April 2018.
On 28th June 2018 the Court issued directions requiring the Claimants to file a reply to the application and made the matter returnable for hearing scheduled for hearing on 2nd August 2018. Lawyer Andrew Bal from Indigene Lawyers attended the conference on behalf on the claimants.
On 2th August 2018 Mr Bal nor anyone else from Indigene Lawyers was present to challenge the application.
The defense lawyer argued in Court at that time that as a result of the claimants’ failures to file the documents directed, they have not ensured the proceedings continue and they have failed to comply with Court orders.
Justice Saksak said he accepted those arguments in light of the evidence by sworn statement and that from November 2017 to 2nd August 2018, it has been well over 6 months.
He also ruled that the defendant’s costs of the application, and costs incurred incidental to the action fixed at Vt50,000 be paid by the claimants.
The former CEO of Saling Shipping Services, Macdonald Bule, and the five crew members claimed that Barnabas Tabirupmel had not honored the contract they have signed with him concerning their employment wwith their monthly salaries. They said in their claim to Court that their boss has breached their employment agreement by failing to pay in full their monthly remunerations.
They have approached the Department of Labor with their claims based on monthly salary of each one of them and other entitlements reaching a total of Vt40,196,488.
This case seemed to be the beginning of AFIC saga. When heard about the legal action taken by these people against their boss, people reacted particularly on social media and AFIC has been mainly targeted.
Many have warned public not to invest their money in AFIC (Apma Financial Investment Centre) as they alleged that the problem occurred in Saling Shipping Services could be associated with people’s money being invested in the financial institution.
As AFIC was already becoming so popular in a short period of time with more than ten branches established in the islands throughout Vanuatu having attracted 16 000 people as financial members and 6 000 as normal customers, the trust being given to Barnabas Tabirupmel has been lost. That’s when many financial members and normal customers have withdrawn their money from their accounts, leaving some savings as the Office of the Registrar of Cooperatives and Business Development Services intervened by closing the doors of AFIC in Port Vila. The branchesof AFIC in the provinces have been also affected.
Since Barnabas Tabirupmel is accused of misappropriation and if he is brought to justice, many questions would surround the future of AFIC as many people still have their savings there.
Very recently, the Office of the Registrar of Cooperatives and Business Development Services released an official audit report on the accounts of AFIC. The report came out at the end of about five months investigations.
The financial members of AFIC have been informed by the registrar of Cooperatives Ridely Joseph, in this report that investigations revealed some unauthorized drawings being placed into business projects either owned or controlled by Barnabas Tabirupmel.
In his introductory note to financial members of AFIC, the registrar of Cooperatives said huge sums of money have been taken by Barnabas Tabirupmel, the money he has not accounted for as it belonged to them and to normal customers.
The investigations leading to the audit report cover the operations of AFIC from January 2017 to March 2018. The report shows that the total amount of money being drawn by Barnabas Tabirupmel to fund his related business is Vt320 million which would represent big part of savings belonging to financial members and normal customers.
As many people in Vanuatu accused him of being the cause of the downfall of AFIC of which he was the founder, it is alleged that some of the businesses established through unauthorized drawing of funds from the financial institution were registered at the Vanuatu Financial Services Commission and are fully owned by Barnabas Tabirupmel. One of these businesses all named in Apma dialect of Central Pentecost is Bujunbana.
It is expected that only Vt35 million can be recovered in the form of assets from businesses created by Tabirupmel and registered in his name from these unauthorized drawings.
The financial members and normal customers of AFIC have to worry a lot about their savings as the AFIC balance sheet as at March 31, 2018 shows that in terms of current assets, AFIC had Vt649,013 cash on hand and Vt9,911,696 in the bank under a cheque account.
The investigations only covered the operations of AFIC in Port Via, excluding its branches on Tanna, Pentecost and Santo.
The businesses owned and controlled by Barnabas Tabirupmel and representing his assets are Bujunbana, Salin Shipping that operates the ship Bejida, Ko Yang Si and SMET development whose three stories building has been erected where Smet company used to be in Port Vila. Works on this building have ceased since January this year when the doors of AFIC where closed by the Office of the Registrar of Companies.
Barnabas Tabirupmel, considered by many people of Pentecost as “big businessman”, has also built his own business at his home village Enar in Central Pentecost employing some hundreds of people. He owns the first three story building in Pentecost.
Police reported to Vila Times that few days ago they arrested two man, one on Tanna and the other one on Pentecost, and brought them to the capital as they began to retrieve the assets of AFIC being taken without proper procedure.
Before becoming businessman, Barnabas Tabirupmel has been member of Parliament elected in Pentecost on National United Party’s ticket. He has also served as Minister of Hom Affairs.
He lives today in his home village Enar. He has appointed some of his employees to look after his businesses in Port Vila.
When asked about the future of the businesses owned and controlled by Barnabas Tabirupmel following the release of the audit report, one of his associates answered to Vila Times “the Court is the last resource. I think that our man (Barnabas) has not withdrawn the funds from AFIC himself. What about the finance controller who was responsible of all financial transactions of AFIC.”
The man in question who served as Finance Controller of AFIC has reportedly fled the country several days after the closing of AFIC. He is an expatriate being recruited for his qualification.
Reports close to Barnabas Tabirupmel said “the audit report would be considered as balanced if Barnabas Tabirupmel has been approached to give his side of story and if it (report) also included his opinion. Report is a report but we need justice on it for final judgement. The Court of Justice is our last resource.”
Last week Daily Post reported that the Office of the Registrar of Cooperatives and Business Development Services was going to take steps to work with the Police and Financial Intelligence Unit to file a criminal case against former AFIC Director, Barnabas Tabirupmel (Tabi).