Manus refugees and asylum seekers in a stand-off with guards trying to shut off power in August 2017. (ABC news)

Singapore-registered Paladin Holdings is in the hotseat as questions surface about its legitimacy

Paladin Holdings directors include one German national and an Australian based in Singapore and one Australian based in Australia. The company was awarded more than A$420 million (S$406 million) – about S$16.45 million a month – in contracts by the Australian government to provide security services at their Pacific refugee camps – three camps located on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

These camps are part of Canberra’s policy of processing asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by boat. They’re processed at remote offshore Pacific Camps where hundreds of refugees have been stranded for years.

According to South China Morning Post (SCMP), a number of security and service providers have steered clear of running these contentious camps in the wake of criticism, both international and domestic, over the conditions of the camp. Many rights activities and refugees have also spoken up about that.

Following local media reports that the firm, Paladin Holdings, had very little experience and had ties to a senior Papua New Guinean politician, questions surfaced as to why they were awarded the contracts in the first place.

The Australian Financial Review revealed last week that Paladin’s office in Australia was apparently just a beach shack located on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia. Following that, Paladin apparently changed its registered address to an office in Canberra.

According to Singapore’s own Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA), it appears that Paladin Holdings Pte Ltd’s registered address in Singapore is located in the Bank of China Building on Battery Road. That same address on Google lists a company called Luther Corporate Service Pte Ltd. Luther apparent caters to ‘strict regulatory and/or administrative corporate needs & responsibilities’ including everything from accounting to payroll and secretarial services.

Australian attorney general Christian Porter told national broadcaster ABC that the tender “was the subject of a full independent Commonwealth procurement process”, defending Papua New Guinea’s decision to hire Paladin for its services.

However, he added that the reported links between Paladin and a senior Papua New Guinean politician will “have to be investigated thoroughly”.

Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton apparently distanced himself from the tender process last week by saying it was managed by low-level officials. The upcoming parliamentary hearings on Monday and Tuesday will see Home Affairs officials questioned on the contract with Paladin. Labor Senator Murray Watt, of the opposition, has called for transparency from the government.

“It’s about time they started providing some answers, about why A$400 million in taxpayer contracts can go to a company that no one has heard of, with no scrutiny about how the money is being spent,” he said.

Australia pays Papua New Guinea and the tiny island state of Nauru to hold asylum seekers who try to reach Australian shores by boats. In late 2017, a court in Papua New Guinea ruled that these detention camps were unconstitutional and ordered the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments to take all steps necessary to cease the camps.