Koror (Island Times) -- As promised, President Surangel Whipps Jr moved the Palau government accounts out of Bank of Guam (BOG) in response to the bank’s decision to withhold and return EIP recipients’ monies back to United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
“I spoke with them earlier and told them to return people’s monies. They said it’s their responsibility to investigate and I told them that that is between the U.S government and the individuals. They (BOG) chose to target account holders in Palau. I want people to also know we have a choice,” Whipps Jr said of his decision.
Before 03 March, he had instructed the Ministry of Finance to move the government accounts out of Bank of Guam. The Ministry of Finance has moved out most of the government’s accounts, leaving active only those used to administer CROSS Act and the Reserve Fund to fund the next budget appropriation.
He revealed that he had also moved out Surangel & Sons business accounts, “just to be consistent.”
During a phone call meeting with Guam Gov. Lourdes Leon Guerrero regarding the Pacific Island Forum issue, President Whipps said he told Governor Guerrero, former Chairman of the Bank of Guam, to release EIP payments to the people in Palau. “I told her, one reason we left PIF is the disrespect shown us, and Bank of Guam is doing that to Palau by withholding peoples’ money and she said she will talk to the bank.”
Whipps revealed that he was also contacted by Bank of Guam President and CEO Joaquin P.L.G Cook.
“He wanted to give me the history of it so I told him that I don’t need a history lesson. I told him to give back people’s money,” stated Whipps.
Last year, after IRS issued a notice that non-filers can file for Economic Impact Payment under the U.S CARES Act, some Palauans with U.S Social Security numbers and US citizens in Palau filed online with IRS for EIP. Those who were qualified by IRS were issued payments through direct deposit to their bank accounts. Those with Bank of Guam had their accounts placed on temporary hold and were instructed to contact the bank to confirm their eligibility.
The Palau government questioned Bank of Guam over its policy, which it said is discriminating against citizens of Palau and FAS states. Bank of Guam responded that it was their fiduciary duty to report fraudulent transactions through their banks to IRS under IRS Leads Program. As a result, IRS instructed them to place accounts on hold and return funds to IRS. Affected account holders were told to contact IRS directly.
Bank of Guam and BankPacific, both Guam banks, sent back EIP funds that were sent to account holders in Palau. Bank of Hawaii was the only bank that did not withhold or return EIP payments.
A group of affected account holders in Palau hired an attorney to file a suit against Bank of Guam. A similar group in Federated States of Micronesia also retained an attorney to file a similar complaint against the bank. (Island Times/PACNEWS)