Bills and booze in gift bags. Attempted bribe?
Colonia, Yap-- The two sparkling gift bags with religious crosses decorating the sides were discovered among the congratulatory gifts that had arrived in the governor’s office during Yap’s inauguration on Jan. 14. There was no card or acknowledgement of who left the bags.
Busy with the day’s activities, the state’s new governor, Henry S. Falan, and lieutenant governor, Jesse John Salalu, were not aware of the packages until the following day when they arrived in their offices. But their schedule was packed with meetings with the visiting dignitaries, so it was Wednesday before they had time to even look at them.
Curious to see what was inside when he arrived at his office early that morning, Salalu opened his pale blue bag and found a bottle of Chivas Regal. When compared to the religious cross on the outside of the gift bag, it seemed like a disconnect to Salalu who is devoted to his faith. Then he noticed a white envelope.
It was the type given out by banks, with the bank’s name printed on the front. Inside were 10 $100 bills. Stunned, he called out to Falan and together they opened the other bag. Again, a bottle of Chivas Regal, but this time the envelope contained $4,000 in crisp, new bills.
The team was elected on their platform of transparency, honesty and accountability. Although they expected to be confronted with the prospect of this type of “persuasion” since foreign powers that are trying to establish a foothold on the island are well known for giving out envelopes of money freely, they had pledged publicly to not accept outside influence in any form.
They now had to decide what to do with the money and how to let their constituents know about the attempt to buy their influence. Nothing less would do, they agreed.
On Friday evening, during a dinner to thank the members of the Inauguration Planning Committee, Gov. Falan approached the microphone to acknowledge everyone who had worked so hard on his and the lt. governor’s behalf to put on what was widely considered the best inaugural event ever.
He then told the group of more than two dozen men and women from the public and private sectors that he considered them his consultants until such time as his cabinet is in place.
As such, he wanted to share something with them and asked Salalu to please stand up. Falan described the bags and their anonymous delivery to their offices as Salalu pulled the bottles of liquor and envelopes out of each one, fanning the bills to show that they were indeed real. The audience sat mute.
Never before had politicians announced monetary gifts of this type. After all, how many elections all over the world featured empty promises of openness and honesty that were never carried out?
Falan then told the assembled group that they decided to tell the planning committee first. On Sunday, he and Salalu would attend church services where they would present the same show-and-tell. T
he next stop, he said, would be the senators who serve in the Yap State Legislature. The money would then be given to the attorney general’s office for safekeeping where it would be deposited into “an escrow account” or some other type of account depending on what the AG recommended in accordance with the law.
Show me the money: Lt. Gov. Salalu does at interfaith service. Photo by Joyce McClure
Sunday morning, the state’s two new leaders attended their respective church services and made good on their word to tell their fellow parishioners about the gifts and what they would be doing with them.
Salalu poured the whiskey on the ground in view of the parishioners. That evening, they attended an interfaith service in Colonia together and again gave their presentation as the audience, including several pastors, craned to see the money as Salalu fanned it out as evidence. “I think,” he said, “they call this a bribe.” The assembly shouted their agreement and applauded.
In the meantime, the U.S. Embassy in Pohnpei had already begun planning to bring officials from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Treasury and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to provide expertise and assistance for an investigation. Those plans were immediately speeded up.