Muscat: 70 people have been sentenced to prison after being found guilty of stealing public funds and property, Oman’s Public Prosecution has announced, as the number of cases of public fraud continues to rise.
During the first half of 2018, 40 expats and 30 Omanis were accused of crimes related to the Sultanate’s public funds.
According to the Public Prosecution reports, there were 112 people accused of similar crimes in 2016 and 200 in 2018, registering an increase of 140 per cent. The number of cases increased by 150 per cent between 2016 and 2017, with 55 cases of public fund crimes in 2016 and 138 cases in 2017.
Following these most recent arrests, the public prosecution warned that anyone who attempts to steal funds from the government, will face severe punishment.
An official at the Public Prosecution told the Times of Oman, “Public funds include everything that is owned by the country and is allocated for public use. It includes roads, government buildings and lands, real estate that belongs to the government, zakat, orphanages and money for minors and endowment funds, among other things.”
The official added, “Interfering with public funds is considered a crime and anyone who misuses public money will be punished to the full extent of the law.”
Ramanuj Venkatesh, a financial analyst in Oman, said people who committed such fraudulent activities often knew of the consequences, but still did it because they thought they might be able to get away with it.
“If, for example, a company increases their sales and their expenses, but post a very low sales figure, they are doing so just to pay less taxes and fees, and that is a case of fraud,” he explained.
“They purposely did this and they are aware of the repercussions. If you know the repercussions and still commit such actions, then you are definitely going to face the consequences and your credibility will be destroyed, because you knew the consequences and still did this. It honestly, in this case, would make no sense as to why someone would do this.”
Venkatesh also explained what financial investigators looked for when they searched for fraudulent activities.
“What you look for in fraud is the intent behind it,” he said. “If there is a personal benefit behind this fraud, then the person who has committed it needs to be corrected for what he has done. The investigators look deeper into cases of fraud, because they go with the assumption that there is an intent to cause harm. They ensure that there are no abnormal financial figures, such as those that are highly inflated and do not portray a true and fair reflection of the financial accounts. If for example, you have a sales increase of 10 per cent, but your profits are down, then it could point to a case of people intentionally manipulating the figures, after all your expenses are taken into account.”
Oman’s Penal Code lays down specific punishments for acts of fraud, which included the forging and selling of documents relating to state security and the embezzling of public property.
Article 141 says that people found guilty of destroying, concealing, embezzling, leaking or forging papers or records relating to State security or any other national interest would face a jail term of between three and 10 years. Public officials who committed such crimes would get between 10 and 15 years behind bars.
Article 213 states that public officials who use their position to embezzle public property will face a jail sentence of between three and five years and will be made to pay a fine equivalent to the value of the property. If forgery is also involved, jail time is extended to between five and ten years and the offender is removed from office and prohibited from any further public duties.
With regards to fraud, Article 221 says that those who commit fraud towards the supply and maintenance of all public property will also face jail terms of between three and five years. It is increased to between five and 10 years if the fraud results in severe harm or relates to matters of security and defence. Subcontractors, agents, brokers, and consultants shall be punished by the same punishment if the fraud is attributed to their conduct.