KOROR, PALAU – On Monday, January 10, 2022, Presiding Justice Kathleen M. Salii issued an order sentencing former Governor of Ngaraard State, Benjamin Iskawa, to five (5) years’ probation, a suspended imprisonment term of eighteen (18) months, and ordering Mr. Iskawa to pay a total of $14,746.74 in fines and penalties. The Court ordered Mr. Iskawa to also pay for the return ticket of co-Defendant and former Jia Ren employee, Conying Liu, on the next available flight to her home country of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Court’s sentence was based on a negotiated plea agreement the Court accepted on December 9, 2021.
In imposing the sentence, the Court considered the nature and circumstances of the offenses, evidence of Defendant’s good character, education and employment, absence of any criminal record, and history of public service, as well as other factors as provided in the Palau Penal Code, 17 PNC § 618. During sentencing, the Court stressed that although it suspended a sentence of eighteen (18) months imprisonment, should the Defendant fail to abide by the terms of his probation the Court may revoke his probation and order him to serve the full imprisonment term.
The Court noted that while it has suspended imprisonment terms in similar cases in the past, the Court will not be easily persuaded to do so in the future. The Court further noted it and the public has been seeing these types of cases over the past ten (10) years and sufficient “training” has occurred; new administrations are taking office and public officials should take care to abide by the law. Public officials who choose to maintain private businesses cannot claim ignorance or difficulty, they have a responsibility to follow the law and it is not meant to be easy.
Mr. Iskawa pleaded guilty and was convicted of one count each of Misconduct in Public Office, violations of the Code of Ethics and Foreign Investment Acts, and two counts of violations of the Unified Tax Act relating to the Jia Ren Massage Parlor. One of the conditions of his probation require the $14,746.74 in fines and penalties be paid in monthly installments of not less than $300.00 to be paid on or before the 20th of each month. The Court’s decision ordering Defendant to pay the fine and penalties on a specific payment schedule will enable the Court to monitor the Defendant’s timely compliance with his sentence.
The Office of the Special Prosecutor has consistently requested convicted defendants serve jail time for these types of offenses and will continue to do so.