On 23 November 2017, the headline across the front page of the Samoa Observer, read: “Criminal charges to be laid in passport scam”; and up there on the top right hand corner, accompanying the story that followed was the photograph of Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.
The story said the government had concluded its investigations into allegations that someone had been “selling Samoan passports online”, and as a result criminal charges have been filed against the individual who is alleged to have been issuing false Samoan passports.
The story also said the individual in question was an employee of the Immigration Division of the Prime Minister’s Department, and that he had been issued with a notice of termination of service.
It is understood though that back in October, Attorney General Lemalu Herman P. Retzlaff, had issued a ‘prohibition order’ for Immigration Employee Mr Nomereta Uaine, and a member of the public, Fitu Goshe.
That was when the Immigration Office suspended Mr Nomereta Uainean, while in the meantime the alleged sale of Samoan passports online, was being investigated.
As it turned out though, the reports that Samoan passports were being sold online contained in an email from someone named “Joanna Slewion”.
When the email arrived, the Samoa Observer referred it to the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Agafili Shem Leo.
In the email, “Joanna Slewion” warned that someone was “selling Samoa passport in African (sic)”.
The email also said: “He even fooled me to send my 1000 U.S. dollars to him that he was going to give me the passport to go to Europe.
“The money was sent, however there had been no contact from the alleged passport procurer, and this has been going on for quite sometime.
“He said he has been processing Samoan passports for others and they have used them to travel to Europe.”
That was when the Samoa Observer referred the matter to the Chief Executive Officer of the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet, Agafili Shem Leo, but then by press time there was no response.
Sometime later though a press statement arrived.
It said further “enquiries had been proposed to evaluate the systems in place for issuing new passports, in order to ascertain what changes needed to be implemented to prevent this from recurring in the future.
“Meanwhile, the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has completed its internal investigation of a member of the Immigration Division, as to alleged breaches of the Public Service Act and has subsequently issued termination of service against that employee.”
As for Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, it sounded as if he was thinking about the past when he said: “Well, there will always be those who will try to cheat the system.”
He’s absolutely right, but then in case he’s forgotten, well then, let’s remind him.
It was 14 May 1993.
That was when the Samoan passport No. T041987 showed up at Auckland International Airport, New Zealand, in the possession of a Chinese woman.
When she checked in at Immigration, she used her Chinese Passport No. 741333; the name in it was Ms Cui Shuang-Yu.
After she was cleared, she told the immigration officer attending to her, she was going on to Samoa.
The officer then checked the woman’s Chinese passport looking for a visa in there to enter Samoa, but she found none so that some confusion arose.
Now asked if she had a visa to enter Samoa, the Chinese woman said yes; she then explained that she had a “valid visa” in the form of a “work permit.”
Asked to produce her “valid visa”, the woman ducked inside her trousers and came up with what turned out to be her Samoan passport; bearing the No. T041987, her name in it was Ms Cui “Mele” Shuang-Yu.
That document, incidentally, would become the first passport to have been used illegally by a foreigner during the so-called Samoan passport scandal.
And with it the scam was blown wide open; on that day, the illegal sale of Samoan passports was no longer doubtful; it was quite real.
As for the owner of Samoan Passport No. T041987, Ms Cui “Mele” Shuang-Yu, she was clearly a rare curiosity.
Asked by the New Zealand immigration officer if she had been to Samoa before, she said no. This was her first visit, she explained, and she then added that she was “very excited and looking forward to going there.”
In her excitement, she told the immigration officer that her Samoan passport cost $US5,000; it was bought for her by a Chinese businessman living in Samoa named “Mr Ping Chang.”
She also told the officer that Mr Chang was the manager and shareholder of a company in Samoa called Ter Rui Sze Clothing Limited.
She said Mr Chang had secured for her employment as a “clothing cutter” for another Samoan company, called “Diamondhead Samoa Investments Ltd.”
Later, that information was relayed to the Western Samoan Consulate in Auckland in a letter from the New Zealand immigration officer, Wendy Greaves.
Ms Greaves informed that Ms “Mele” Shuang-Yu” had not presented her Samoan passport to enter New Zealand, and she made it clear that the visitor had used her Chinese passport.
And from there, the pieces of the puzzle called Ms Cui “Mele” Shuang-Yu, started to fall into place.
It emerged that Samoan Passport No. T041987 that “Mr Ping Chang” had bought for her, came from the Samoan Embassy in Washington D.C.; it belonged to the first patch of passports sent to the embassy when it opened in 1989.
Issued to Ms Cui “Mele” Shuang-Yu by the embassy on 2 September 1992, it bore the embassy stamp instead of the standard passport seal, and Dr Felix Wendt’s signature was the issuing authority.
Four other passports from that patch were understood to be unaccounted for at the time; they were passports T041986, T041988, T041989 and T041990.
Interestingly though, Ms Cui “Mele” Shuang-Yu Samoan Passport No. T041987, had been described as a “fake.”
The reason is plausible enough.
When she arrived at Auckland Airport with her two passports, an irregularity in her identity was glaring; it could not be dispelled.
In her Chinese Passport No. 741333, her name was Ms Cui Shuang-Yu, and in her Samoan Passport No. T041987, her name was Ms Cui “Mele” Shuang-Yu.
A different name for a different passport? Why?
The anomaly here is in the Samoan word “Mele”; it is English for Mary, so that slotted that way in the middle of a Chinese name – in this case Ms Cui “Mele” Shuang-Yu – the apparent reason was to deceive.
In other words, it appeared that this was a part of a scheme aimed at Samoanizing foreign passport holders so as to make their travel arrangements, as legitimately obstacle-free as possible.
In any case, that was why Ms Cui “Mele” Shuang-Yu Samoan passport was deemed a “fake.”
And now that the puzzle called Ms Cui “Mele” Shuang-Yu was solved, let us remind that this was the first time the Samoan government had dealt in the sale of “fake” passports.
The one we’ve been discussing at the beginning of this editorial is the second time.
Have a peaceful Samoa, God bless.