June 21, 2006

The Kaselehlie Press

President Urusemal appears poised to recall FSM Ambassador to the United States Jesse B. Marehalau in the wake of concerns over an ongoing investigation of a former embassy employee for passport fraud as well as questionable financial management practices at the embassy.

At a recent hearing in Palikir of the Special Committee on FSM Washington Embassy Oversight, government officials revealed the likelihood of such a move by the president pending collection of further information.

A severance date of Sept. 30 was suggested among those in attendance, though no action has yet been taken. Discussion centered on how to facilitate a smooth transition and details of Department of Finance and Department of Justice investigations into the matters.

According to government officials, a former driver for the embassy - located in Washington, D.C. - was arrested and charged in early January with conspiracy to import illegal aliens.

The defendant allegedly procured sample copies of FSM passports and distributed them. On Jan. 5, four Filipino citizens were apprehended at the Newark International Airport in New Jersey with the altered passports.

According to officials, the individuals subsequently indicated they had obtained the documents from the defendant.

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security investigation - with the cooperation and involvement of FSM officials - remains underway. The FSM Department of Justice is conducting its own investigation into the matters as well.

Secretary of Justice Marstella Jack was in Washington recently to meet with Homeland Security officials regarding the investigation.

Congress passed a resolution proposing the recall - authored by Sen. Resio Moses - during its recently completed session. In it, it cites, in addition to the fraudulent use of passports, "irregularities with renovation contracts, and unauthorized loans . . .."

It continues, "[O]ur special relationship with the United States and the image of our embassy in Washington may be compromised by these management problems . . . and . . . Congress no longer feels confident that the embassy as currently staffed and managed can adequately represent the national interest . . .."

It is not clear how the financial mismanagement concerns came to light, whether through the course of investigating the passport-related issues or discoveries independent of that matter.

The FSM Department of Finance recently composed a report of its own findings, including the absence of an embassy check registry spanning four fiscal years as well as the embassy's failure to submit timely reports to the department.

Questions were also raised about possible improper procedure regarding the renovation of part of the embassy facility.

Congress convened the special committee - co-chaired by Sen. Dohsis Halbert and Sen. Alik Alik - to look into the issues.

Marehalau has served as ambassador since 1990. To date, he is the first and only FSM ambassador to the United States.