FBI officials in the USA arrested Nigerian-born U.S. citizen Bobby Boye last Thursday, charging him with seven crimes involving the theft of more than $3.5 million from Timor-Leste's people.
Boye came to Timor-Leste in 2010 as part of Norway's assistance program in the Petroleum Sector, a $4 million, four-year program that finished in 2012, and he worked as an adviser in the National Directorate for Petroleum Revenue in the Ministry of Finance until last year. According to the FBI, Boye created a fake law firm in New York and arranged for it to get $7.8 million in contracts from Timor-Leste's Ministry of Finance. Timor-Leste was unaware that the "Opus & Best" company didn't exist or that Boye was behind it.
According to the FBI's legal filing, Boye spent his ill-gotten gains on four pieces of land in New Jersey, three luxury cars (including a Rolls Royce and a Bentley) and other items. If convicted on all charges, Boye could be imprisoned for 140 years, fined several million dollars, and ordered to repay the money he obtained by fraud.
La'o Hamutuk has information and documents about this case on our web page on back petroleum taxes, which will be updated as we learn more.
Bobby Boye pushed Timor-Leste's government to accuse ConocoPhillips and other oil companies of cheating on their taxes to Timor-Leste, leading to dozens of cases against them totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. The companies paid under protest in order to avoid escalating penalties while appealing. Many of these cases are currently before an arbitration panel in Singapore, which will decide whether this part of Boye's work in Timor-Leste was legitimate.
Timor-Leste Government's Contingency Fund during 2011, which probably made him the highest paid person in the country. When we learned of this in November 2012, La'o Hamutuk asked Boye about it, and he replied:
"The Timor-Leste Prime Minister upon recommendation from the then Vice Minister of Finance, DG Revenue & Customs and the National Director of NDPR approved additional compensation for me based on my performance. The employment contract with Norway (now terminated) did not preclude the additional compensation that I received from the TL Government for the services that I rendered during the 2011 calendar year. Whether I am entitled to it or have earned is beyond debate. ...We don't doubt that Boye worked hard -- in addition to his job as an adviser, he was secretly doing the work of an entire law firm (or at least enough to keep up appearances). And he did move on fairly quickly once people started asking questions ... but apparently not quickly enough to stay ahead of the feds.
"Quite frankly the people that want to ask questions should go ahead and do so but I will encourage them to also look at the results of what I am doing here. Aside from other intangibles like capacity building, structure at NDPR, I have literally brought in over $300 million of additional revenue to TL through solo efforts and that is a mere scratch on the surface-considering what is in the pipeline for TL.
"I spend an average of 14 hours a day, 7 days a week on what I do here. My talent is portable and if anybody thinks in and out government that I am paid too much, I am more than willing to move on-fairly quickly, so that they can get a cheap replacement."
We look forward to learning more about the Boye case, and wonder if other U.S. or Timorese people were involved. Timor-Leste should feel lucky that Boye only took us for around $4 million (about as much as the Ministry of Health spends each month). Let this be a lesson for officials, citizens, and everyone who believes that Timor-Leste's finite petroleum wealth should be used to improve the lives of its people.
U.S. authorities say Bobby Boye is 50 years old, 6'3" (190 cm) tall, weighs 211 pounds (96 kg), and has black hair and brown eyes.
Update, 6 July: On 20 June, the day after Bobby Boye was arrested, a judge granted him conditional pre-trial release (TIR) after a 10-minute court appearance. Boye offered his home (right) to guarantee the $1.5 million dollar bond.
On 2 July, a judge suspended proceedings in the case until 22 August to allow Boye's attorneys and federal prosecutors time to negotiate a plea bargain "in the interests of justice."
Update, 23 August: On 21 July, La'o Hamutuk wrote to the prosecutor, urging her to take the case to trial in order to reveal more information about possible violations of Timor-Leste and Norwegian law, as well as who may have conspired with Boye.
On 12 August, the judge extended the suspension of proceeding for 60 days more, until 22 October, because "both the United States and the defendant desire additional time to negotiate a plea agreement, which would render any grand jury proceedings and any subsequent trial of this matter unnecessary."
On 23 August the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten published a long article "(Norway's) Finance Department sends swindler to help Timor-Leste" detailing Boye's long criminal record and the sloppy procedures by which Norway hired him to work in Timor-Leste. Aftenpposten published a shorter English version two days later.
More information is on La'o Hamutuk's website.