PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT
ITALIAN GIFT CAUSING POLITICAL DEBATE IN TUVALU
By Michael J. Field
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (March 3, 1998 - Agence France-Presse)---An Italian restaurant owner living in Germany has become a major figure in general elections in the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu, already hot with allegations of sexual immorality and bribery.
Tuvalu, 1,046 kilometers (648 miles) north of Fiji, votes on March 26 for a 12-seat Parliament. Its been a bitter campaign in which former Prime Minister Kamuta Latasi has accused the current Prime Minister, Bikenibeu Paeniu, of "an immoral practice," homosexuality.
Now one Giovanni Di Loreto is an issue after he sent a shipping container which included lace, rags, 1,167 white T-shirts, 10 mountain bikes and soccer balls. Saying it was for the Red Cross, Di Loreto also pledged 1.5 million Australian dollars (1.1 million U.S. dollars) to Tuvalu if they made him their Honorary Consul to Italy and Germany. Paeniu said the container was sent to the government but its individual contents were addressed to Latasi, who, he said, was planning on opening Tuvalu's first supermarket.
He noted Latasi's wife is President of the Red Cross. Di Loreto said the shipping container was "denoted to anyone in Tuvalu for humanitarian purposes, in particular for children. "The container arrived last July and until last week was the subject of bitter political and legal exchanges.
The government this week was distributing the container's contents among government departments. The mountain bikes will be auctioned in dead flat Tuvalu while the T-shirts will go to the Red Cross.
Latasi said he had nothing to do with what finally arrived. "That was all I knew. And what was inside, I did not know," he said.Latasi says he has no business connections with Di Loreto and denied he was leading a "millionaires life.
"Both Paeniu and Latasi agree that Di Loreto handed 15,000 dollars in cash to Paeniu during his first term as Prime Minister. Latasi said when he became Prime Minister he found the cash in the office safe. A fax from Paeniu to Di Loreto in June last year gives a different view of the meeting between the Prime Minister, Di Loreto and his translator Peter Knips. "You knew very well that when you handed over that money to me," Paeniu faxed Di Loreto, "I requested. . .and Mr. Knips said to me following your consultation as you do not speak English well, that the money was for me and that I could use if any way I like."
Di Loreto said he tried to help Tuvalu's people and did not give money for political purposes. "I did give occasionally some donations to government officials with firm and clear instructions to be used to improve - be it only a little bit- the people's conditions."
He said he did lend money to Latasi, who said the money had been used to buy equipment for a Tuvalu youth string band.
Paeniu claims that in December 1996 Latasi, then Prime Minister, attended the UN Food Conference in Rome where Di Loreto gave him a "fat envelope" of U.S. dollars which were deposited in the ANZ Bank in Suva. Latasi denied that and says he has a written statement from the ANZ saying he has made no deposits in his Suva bank account.
Di Loreto, according to his e-mail, was now "sick and tired of those low-level attempts of some people playing political games."
Michael J. Field
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