Subject: Ramos Horta and the Timor rumour mill
Ramos Horta and the Timor rumour mill
Paul Toohey, Analysis | April 22, 2008
EAST Timor has been consumed with rumours since President Jose Ramos Horta began looking beyond his own shores to an international conspiracy to assassinate him on February 11. The President has claimed that Angelita Pires and her dead rebel lover, Major Alfredo Reinado, held a joint bank account in Darwin currently holding more than US$700,000, and has demanded the Australian Federal Police identify who deposited the money.
It suggests the pair had powerful foreign backers, but does the money really exist?
The head of the investigation into the events of February 11, which left Ramos Horta wounded and Reinado dead, is East Timor Prosecutor-General Longinhos Monteiro.
Monteiro has questioned the money claim, saying the investigators will not know how much money was in the account until a "mutual justice agreement" was signed between East Timor and Australia.
And Australian Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, told ABC today: "All the East Timor authorities need to do, and they've been on notice for a month, is to follow the appropriate procedures, and the information that they're currently seeking, will be made available."
Mr Longuinhos told The Australian last week he had phone text evidence retrieved from Reinado's phone, in which Ms Pires allegedly sent a message to Reinado saying funds had been shifted to the Commonwealth Bank. Mr Monteiro said Ms Pires sent her lover a pin number and account number.
Mr Longinhos said he was surprised how the President knew that was the amount, and repeated that investigators did not know how much was in the account.
The mutual agreement Mr Monteiro seeks is not just for bank details but also relates to 47 incoming and outgoing calls to Australia logged on Reinado's phone. Those calls relate to the period between February 1 and February 11, when Reinado was shot in the President's compound.
Some of the calls were logged after Reinado was shot, but Mr Monteiro, who believes most of the calls were non-suspicious, still wants to know who the callers were.
Monteiro and Ramos Horta want Australian intelligence to reveal any voice recordings and text messages they have stored, and has expressed frustration with the bureaucratic agreement process - especially given that Indonesian police were unhesitating in provided intelligence information relating to 31 calls on Reinado's phone to and from that country from the same period.
President Ramos Horta told The Australian on Saturday that he was stunned by the amount Reinado and Ms Pires held. He said the account opened with $US1m but after withdrawals was now more than $700,000. He complained he could never raise such a sum when he was trying to gather donations to relieve poverty in his country.
While believing the amount he described was correct, he called upon Australian authorities and the banks to confirm his claim. "It's in Australia's interest to do this fast."
He said he was unsure whether the money was in the ANZ or the Commonwealth in Darwin.
"What you can do is ask the Commonwealth Bank in Darwin, but they will not tell you," the President told The Australian. "It's making them nervous. Their excuse is they need a court order to reveal such information. I don't accept this excuse."
The President said it would have been "too dangerous" for Ms Pires and Reinado to put the money in a Dili bank account without sparking an alert. Yet the same might be said for a Darwin bank account, where large deposits attract automatic reporting alerts. Ramos Horta said $US1m had been deposited into the account by unknown persons at an unknown time.
The claims make life more difficult for Ms Pires, whom the President and Mr Monteiro have accused of orchestrating the February 11 attacks which left two rebels dead and the President recuperating in the Darwin hospital for nine weeks.
Ramos Horta returned home last week and initially accused Indonesian individuals - though not the government - of being behind the attack. This drew a rebuke from Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whose office said there was no evidence of any Indonesian citizen being behind the attacks.
Claims that Reinado had a million-dollar account first emerged two days after he was shot. Flyers, distributed by street boys, hit Dili claiming a well-known political party - which Reinado was known to detest - had paid him $1 million to bring down the leadership.
It must disturb Australia - which heads the unloved International Stabilisation Force, which has been taken to sharpen its image by running newspaper advertisements showing a Digger shaking hands with a Timorese kid - that Timorese will interpret the money claims as proof powerful non-Timorese Australians were backing Reinado and Ms Pires.
"No Timorese person living in Australia has such money," the President claimed.
When Reinado's men appeared in new US-style uniforms in December, it prompted speculation that he had won over some serious foreign backers. Ramos Horta was today demanding to know who provided those uniforms and The Australian is able to shed light on this.
Ruy Lopes, who lives on the East-West Timor border, was a strong civilian backer of Reinado. "You want to know something? I bought those new uniforms for Alfredo," said Lopes. "I went to Jakarta and got them. It was all legal, I passed through customs with them. You can buy them openly in the markets, they use them for paintball games."
Lopes said Reinado's men had no Indonesian weapons. They had what they stole from barracks in 2006 and those taken in a later raid on a border police station. When they wanted ammunition, said Lopes, police gave it to them.
Lopes said there were no big backers - just people like him. "The money was just a few dollars here and there, from businesses in Dili - and the Catholic Church, which shifted him around and gave him protection."
The investigation into February 11 appears to have become slightly desperate, with investigators pulling in 86 "witnesses and suspects". Many of them appear at best peripheral to the inquiry.
Well-known East Timorese cameraman journalist, Jose Belo, who last week filmed a long-distance phone conversation between on the-run-rebel leader, Gastao Salsinha, and SBS Dateline's Mark Davis, was ordered to appear before the United Nations' investigation team today as a witness.
He was questioned as to how he had got the phone numbers of the rebels, and his sources. Mr Belo - who strongly objected to being questioned - refused to cooperate and told the UN investigators to watch the program for any information they needed.
What this all suggests is that sight has been lost of the main game. Things are now skewing sideways, with many Timorese convinced that the February 11 attacks were all about Timor Gap oil and gas, with Australia not content to take the lion's share it already has and, therefore, somehow trying to execute the Timor leadership in order to grab more money off the struggling country.
Ordinary people will advise you quietly, with wide eyes, that this is really a battle between Australia and Indonesia v China. The Chinese are increasingly visible in Dili, now building a huge government palace and making sure no one misses the point with man-high red letters telling all who pass that it is a gift from the People's Republic of China.
China has been doing this kind of thing throughout the Pacific for years now as it seeks to buy the locals' affection from the US. As the investigation into February 11 slumbers onwards, locals - including some leaders - are inclined to take the path of most resistance and blame powerful outside forces.
Ms Pires is expected to been brought before the court this week to for a bail review on the basis of new information received.
We will wait, fascinated, to see whether there really was a million-dollar Darwin bank account, and whether it leads to deep international political waters: or whether this is really a shallow pond, involving a few giant egos waving about some big guns.