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Regional News

Marshalls minister’s case faces hurdles to trial

MAJURO — A decision on whether Marshall Islands Cabinet Minister Kenneth Kedi will face trial on theft and misconduct in public office charges will not be made by the High Court until after additional written arguments are filed by lawyers involved in the high-profile case.

Judge James Plasman set a Monday June 20 deadline for all written closing arguments and replies to be submitted to him so he can decide if there is “good cause” to proceed to trial with the case.

Kedi is facing 10 criminal charges ranging from grand larceny to misconduct in public office alleging that he improperly obtained a reimbursement for office furniture he did not purchase and in another incident cashed a check made out to a local government. The amount involved is about $2,200.Kedi, who is minister for transportation and communications, is the first serving cabinet minister to be charged in the High Court.

At the first hearing into the charges, Plasman set bail for Kedi at $100. While standard procedure for the High Court in criminal cases is to order defendants to turn in their passports to the court to prevent them departing the country, Plasman directed Kedi or his attorney to notify prosecutor Tion Nabau prior to any travel outside of Majuro with details about departure and return dates.

Documents filed by Kedi in the High Court show that he paid back money he is now charged with misusing after officials raised objections to his receiving two payments.

He is charged with illegally obtaining a reimbursement from the Ministry of Finance for a $1,197.82 office furniture purchased by Rongelap Atoll Local Government, the atoll that he represents in parliament, and for taking and cashing an Air Marshall Islands check for $1,037.20 made out to the local government.

Finance Minister Jack Ading told Kedi in a November 7, 2008 letter that Kedi’s action in obtaining the reimbursement was “unethical and illegal.”

Letters between Ading and Kedi show dramatically contrasting views about a reimbursement Kedi received from the Ministry of Finance.

The Rongelap Atoll Local Government paid for furniture for Kedi’s parliament office that cost $1,197.82. Kedi on October 29, 2008 submitted to the parliament the sales receipt in order for the government to pay him $1,197.82, which the Ministry of Finance did on November 7, 2008.

In a response to Ading a few days later, Kedi confirmed that he had received reimbursement for furniture purchased by RALGov, but said,  “I do not agree that this transaction was ‘unethical and illegal.’”

“It is my understanding that many other members of Nitijela (parliament) have been previously reimbursed on their tendering receipts evidencing the purchase of furniture for their individual offices,” Kedi said in his December 3, 2008 reply to Ading.

He said it did not matter who paid for the furniture, it was appropriate for him to be reimbursed.

In a follow up January 23, 2009 letter to Ading, Kedi said he had paid back the money but added: “I believe it was proper for the reimbursement to be made to me as senator for Rongelap but because I do not wish to spend time on this minor issue, I found it necessary to pay the amount that I received from Finance.”