Businessman Eremas Wartoto Accused of Masterminding Crime While in ‘Prison’

Early in the morning on 10 December 2017, Isaac Bill along with three accomplices left the property of convicted criminal, Eremas Wartoto, in Kokopo, East New Britain. According to the National Court, he then skippered a 100-horse power boat belonging to his uncle, Eremas Wartoto, under the cloak of darkness.

Bill arrived at the Rabaul Yacht Club where he boarded a vessel, Kanai. It was a ‘luxury half cabin leisure boat’ belonging to local businessman Ronnie Livi. Kanai had an estimated value of K90,000. Isaac Bill took the boat out into the harbour, punched holes in the floor and sunk it.

When arrested by police in January 2018, Bill admitted to the offence. Bill’s confession, Justice Batari remarked, contained some ‘disturbing’ details.

Justice Batari notes, ‘Isaac Bill was at the time of the incident, employed by Bismarck Pilot Services, a company owned by Eremas Wartoto’ [note: On paper the shares in Bismark Pilot Services are legally owned by Sam Tovut, who shares registered address details with Eremas Wartoto].

According to Justice Batari:

Isaac Bill admitted to the police, his conduct was retaliatory against Ronnie Livi when he ceased giving Bismarck Pilot Services contracts or business in preference to others. He said, Eremas Wartoto then instructed him to steal the victim’s boat and he obliged.

‘That is the first disturbing fact about this case’, Judge Batari opines.

At the time Wartoto was suppose to be in prison after being convicted of misappropriation earlier in 2017.

News reports claim, however, Wartoto was sighted in Port Moresby during this period after controversially obtaining leave from prison to obtain medical treatment. According to Isaac Bill, during this period Wartoto had been ordering further crimes to advance his business interests.

Justice Batari summarises the serious allegations outlined in Bill’s confession:

To put it into its proper perspective, Eremas Wartoto was/is a well-known businessman. He owns the nationwide vehicle hire company, No. 1 Hire Car and diversified into other business activities including inter alia, building constructions, pilot boat contracting, and airline operations. Eremas Wartoto was subsequently convicted and imprisoned for fraud and corrupt offences involving public funds. So, the offence involved another person in higher position of power, authority and influence, in all probability, an accomplice. Isaac Bill was the fall guy, the executioner. He possibly saw the downside to his conduct but no doubt, succumbed under the authoritative influence and coercion of his employer/relative, Wartoto.

While welcoming Bill’s expression of remorse for his role in the crime and subsequent offer of restitution, the National Court judge nonetheless point out, ‘this is the worst form of stealing. It is aggravated by a deliberate and determined ploy to permanently deprive the victim, of the property ownership of his boat and possibly with an intention to undermine the victim’s business operations’.

Though it is the following comment from Judge Batari that may stick in the throat of many : ‘I am satisfied, Isaac Bill did not act on his own volition. He committed the offence under external influences. So, I am not inclined to make him a scapegoat for the wrongdoing of the principal instigator who may likely escape being investigated and charged’.

This is a serious indictment on the rule of law, when the National Court grudgingly accepts that the elite, even when supposedly serving an extended prison sentence for misappropriation, are able to avoid accounting for crimes they stand accused of masterminding (while supposedly in prison).