Palau President’s Death Investigated As Funeral Arrangements Are Made
KOROR, Palau (AP) _ A long-distance autopsy was planned Monday to determine whether Palau President Lazarus Salii killed himself, as investigators suspect, or if he was the island republic’s second president to be assassinated.
Salii, 54, was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in his home Saturday, a day before he had planned to announce his candidacy for re- election.
Police recovered a .357-caliber Magnum revolver, which had been assigned to a police officer on the presidential security detail but was left in the house at Salii’s request four months ago, according to presidential aide Bonifacio Basilius.
″I don’t know why he requested it,″ Basilius said Sunday.
An autopsy was scheduled by Dr. Victor Yano, who planned to be in telephone contact with Dr. Hee Young Park, chief medical examiner on Guam, 1,000 miles away to the north, Basilius said. There are no trained pathologists on Palau.
Park will receive samples and specimens, as well as tape and video recordings of the autopsy later Monday when they are taken to Guam by FBI agent Robert Heafner, Basilius said.
Heafner will take the gun, the spent bullet and other pieces of evidence for analysis at the FBI’s laboratory in Washington, Basilius said.
″We’re not ruling out anything,″ Basilius said when asked if the death was a suicide. He said no note was found.
The police investigation indicates a self-inflicted shooting, according to Chester Pavlovski, the U.S. State Department representative on Palau. Police officials have been unavailable for comment.
Salii was elected president in August 1985, two months after Palau’s first elected president, Haruo Remeliik, was gunned down outside his home. Three men who were convicted of the crime were later acquitted on appeal. In April, U.S. Rep. Morris K. Udall, D-Ariz., and Ron de Lugo, the non-voting representative in Congress of the U.S. Virgin Islands, charged that Salii and two other Palau officials were paid $475,000 in 1983 and 1984 out of a $32 million loan made by British banks to Palau for construction of a power plant.
Salii acknowledged receiving $100,000 from Gordon Mochrie, managing director of International Power Systems Co. Ltd. (IPSECO) of London, but said the money was paid to a travel agency he owned to be used for a potential airline in Palau. The airline never came into being.
Udall and de Lugo wrote to Rep. Dante Fascell, D-Fla., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, charging that several senior Palauan government officials have been connected to shipment of Southeast Asian heroin through Palau. They did not elaborate on those charges.
A federal judge in New York ruled Aug. 8 that Palau must pay an international consortium of banks more than $44 million on defaulted loans for the IPSECO power plant.
Thomas Remengesau Sr., 57, Palau’s vice president, was sworn in as the new president four hours after Salii’s death. Remengesau met Sunday with members of the cabinet and legislature to plan for a state funeral, tentatively scheduled for Friday.
Palau, a former Japanese territory, has been governed by the United States since 1947 as a United Nations strategic trusteeship.
Palau’s effort to negotiate an independent political relationship with the United States has been stymied by opponents of nuclear weapons. Palau’s constitution bans nuclear weapons or power plants, unless approved by 75 percent of the voters. A proposed compact of free association, which would permit U.S. Navy ships to call in Palau, has never received more than 73 percent approval.