Church funds spent at casino

Published

An employee of the Samoan Independent Seventh Day Adventist Church (SISDAC) has had name suppression lifted and has been sentenced in a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) prosecution. 

Elizabeth Papu (52) faced two charges of ‘Theft by person in special relationship’ relating to approximately $1.6 million of offending while she was finance administrator of the Northern Division of SISDAC. 

Appearing in the Manukau District Court today, Ms Papu’s name suppression was lifted. Ms Papu was charged in February this year and in May pleaded guilty to all charges. Today she was sentenced to two years, nine months’ imprisonment. 

Ms Papu admitted she took money from the church without authorisation and manipulated the financial records of the church to hide her actions. Ms Papu stole from the church in order to fund her gambling habit. 

SFO Director, Julie Read said, “Ms Papu had full responsibility for the church’s bank accounts. That authority to record transactions and reconcile bank statements allowed her to manipulate the church’s financial records and disguise her theft. The absence of any segregation of duties or oversight in respect of Ms Papu’s role created the opportunity for her to misappropriate the church’s funds.”

ENDS

Issued by

Andrea Linton
Serious Fraud Office
027 705 4550

Note to editors

Background information

SISDAC was established in New Zealand in 1980 when a small group of individuals broke away from the Seventh Day Adventist Church. SISDAC was registered with the Companies Office as a charitable trust on 29 September 1980 and was registered under the Charities Act 2005 on 30 June 2008. Its charitable purpose was assessed as advancing religion. Since its establishment in New Zealand the Church has expanded into Australia, Samoa and the USA.

Charities Services initiated an investigation into SISDAC in October 2013 after which its concerns were referred to the SFO and a Part 2 investigation began in June 2015.

Crimes Act offences

Section 220 Theft by person in special relationship
(1) This section applies to any person who has received or is in possession of, or has control over, any property on terms or in circumstances that the person knows require the person—
(a) to account to any other person for the property, or for any proceeds arising from the property; or
(b) to deal with the property, or any proceeds arising from the property, in accordance with the requirements of any other person.

(2) Every one to whom subsection (1) applies commits theft who intentionally fails to account to the other person as so required or intentionally deals with the property, or any proceeds of the property, otherwise than in accordance with those requirements.

(3) This section applies whether or not the person was required to deliver over the identical property received or in the person’s possession or control.

(4) For the purposes of subsection (1), it is a question of law whether the circumstances required any person to account or to act in accordance with any requirements.

About the SFO

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) was established in 1990 under the Serious Fraud Office Act.

The SFO is the lead law enforcement agency for investigating and prosecuting serious or complex financial crime, including bribery and corruption.

The presence of an agency dedicated to white collar crime is integral to New Zealand’s reputation for transparency, integrity, fair-mindedness and low levels of corruption.

This work contributes to a productive and prosperous New Zealand and the SFO’s collaborative efforts with international partners also reduce the serious harm that corrupt business practices do to the global economy.

The SFO has three operational teams; the Evaluation and Intelligence team along with two investigative teams.

The SFO operates under two sets of investigative powers.

Part 1 of the SFO Act provides that it may act where the Director “has reason to suspect that an investigation into the affairs of any person may disclose serious or complex fraud.” 

Part 2 of the SFO Act provides the SFO with more extensive powers where: “…the Director has reasonable grounds to believe that an offence involving serious or complex fraud may have been committed…” 

In considering whether a matter involves serious or complex fraud, the Director may, among other things, have regard to:

  • the suspected nature and consequences of the fraud and/or;
  • the suspected scale of the fraud and/or;
  • the legal, factual and evidential complexity of the matter and/or;
  • any relevant public interest considerations.

The SFO’s Annual Report 2016 sets out its achievements for the past year, while the Statement of Intent 2014-2018 sets out the SFO’s strategic goals and performance standards. Both are available online at www.sfo.govt.nz

The SFO Twitter feed is @FraudSeriousNZ