Today we are publishing the continuing story of a 5 part editorial. To appreciate the entire set of events, we invite you to continue reading over the next three days.
Around that time a Chinese woman arrived at Auckland Airport heading for Samoa. She was travelling on a Chinese passport. However when she was searched a Western Samoan passport was found in her underclothes.
One evening at home, sitting in the patio up front enjoying the cool breeze, we discussed the passport scam. It was in everyone’s mind. In those days they talked about it everywhere. Many even joked about it.
“How do you carry a Samoan passport?”
“In your Chinese underpants.”
“What is Jin Jipei having for dinner at Tafaigata tonight?”
“A boiled banana, a finger of mutton flap, and a Samoan passport.”
“When is a passport an illegal Samoan passport?”
“When its trail starts from inside the P.M.’s office, crosses the world towards Samoa’s embassy in Washington D.C., backtracks towards Samoa’s honorary consulate in Hong Kong, then it swings backwards to lead straight into the Samoan P.M.’s office in Apia, where boxes of brand new passports are found ready to be sold.”
“What is our Prime Minister’s new name?”
“Mr. Tusifolau (passport).”
Those were the jokes in those days. They kept everyone sane.
So that our discussions would naturally veer on to the Foreign Investments Bill; it was so natural a transition it could not be stopped.
Everyone has heard about the Foreign Investments Bill but no one has seen it. We knew it had been drafted by a private law firm but it was never tabled in Parliament. What had happened to it? What no one knew was that it had been ordered shelved by the Prime Minister.
That evening I said to Jean wistfully: “Wouldn’t it be good to have a copy of the Foreign Investments Bill. Everyone’s talking about it but no one has seen it.”
Taken by surprise she did not respond immediately. However after mulling the matter over for a while, she said:
“It would be good, but it’s just not possible.”
“Because it’s the government’s most well-guarded secret today.”
“I know,” I said. “But somehow we should get a copy.”
“Well,” she replied, “perhaps one will show up.”
And it did. In those days every time the government tried to hide a controversial document a copy of it would show up. It might have been sooner or later but it always appeared.
A few days later, on 24 May 1997, a Saturday, one did.
On the floor just inside the office’s door that morning was a thick, brown envelope; it had been slipped in under the door. Inside the envelope was the Samoan version of the controversial Foreign Investments Bill 1994. No word or message was on the envelope, outside or inside it. Our unfailing, nameless hero, whoever he was, was characteristically cautious, cool-headed.
The controversial document that everyone has been talking about has finally arrived. Now going through it seemed clear enough that the bill had actually been designed to legitimize the selling of Western Samoan passports and visas to foreigners, especially rich Chinese.
On the front page of the Sunday Samoan the next morning the story titled “Bill gives P.M. power” was published. It said the legislation was designed to give the Minister of Immigration – he was also the Prime Minister at the time - “absolute” power to issue passports when the bill became law. He would have the “absolute authority to grant Western Samoa citizenships, permanent residency permits, temporary residency visas and business licenses to foreigners.”
In addition the law would require investors to submit confirmation of foreign exchange they had available for investment to a body known as the Foreign Investments Committee. F.I.C. would then recommend to the Prime Minister whose decision would be “absolute, it cannot be changed.”
The document also said foreigners who would be granted Western Samoan citizenships would be required to swear on oath to respect Western Samoan sovereignty and abide by the country’s laws.
Once the bill became law, it would empower the Attorney General to make necessary changes to it from time to time to ensure investment funds kept overseas were properly managed. As for the Prime Minister, he would be empowered to revoke business licenses granted to foreigners who broke the law.
The bill would also “legalize passports that have already been issued to foreigners” when it became law.
But then it was shelved and it had not seen the daylight until now, and yet the government has been stubbornly denying any knowledge of passports being sold overseas. Now it cannot do that any more. In its editorial that day the Sunday Samoan said the “leaked draft of the bill erases any doubt about the P.M.’s central involvement in the passport scandal.”
Indeed, “it is clear the bill was designed to legalize the selling of passports to foreigners willing to invest in Western Samoa.” What’s more, “it was in anticipation of this bill becoming law that Western Samoan passports and visas were being advertised for sale in Hong Kong.”
The editorial added that the bill was also “aimed at legalizing passports that have already been issued illegally to foreigners in the past.”
On 11 June 1997 Jin Jipei appeared before His Worship Tagaloa Enoka Puni. He was charged with using an unauthorized passport illegally. That was two months and five days after Jin Jipei had had arrived in Samoa. He had spent all of that time – minus some hours – behind bars.
In court that day an astounding revelation was made. The court was told the Western Samoan passport Jin Jipei had tried to use to enter the country had been intended for someone else.
Senior immigration officer Aneseto Ale told the court Passport No T086609 had been prepared for a person named “Ena Vaai”. He, Mr Ale, had personally prepared the passport but it was not issued right away since photos of Vaai were not available.
Later the passport went missing along with other passports from inside the Immigration Office, Mr Ale told the court.
Then on 7 April 1997 it surfaced at Faleolo Airport in Jin Jipei’s possession.
Jipei had denied the charge saying he thought the passport was a legal document when he bought it in Tonga. And yet it also now appeared the passport was not new when Jipei bought it.
Questioned by Jipei’s counsel, Mr Ale confirmed that the passport had been “used” to enter American Samoa, Fiji and Tonga, before it was confiscated from Jipei at Faleolo Airport.
He objected to the argument by the defense that if the passport had been accepted by the authorities of those countries then it must follow it was a valid document, saying: “The passport is not valid since the applicant and the authorizing signature are not known to the local authorities.”
Suspended Chief Immigration Officer Tuipoloa Suisala also gave evidence. He denied he had told junior officer Siapo Pepe to put Jipei back on the plane on which he had entered the country.
“That was a lie,” Tuipoloa told the court.
Tuipoloa said what he told Pepe was to get the Police to hold Jipei for questioning. He also told the court he told Pepe to keep the documents he had confiscated from Jipei with him and bring them to the office the next morning. Tuipoloa was a subject of the Police investigation underway. Like Ale, Tuipoloa insisted the passport used by Jipei was not valid.
However, both did not dismiss the possibility of an immigration official issuing the passport by putting the official stamp on it, and signing it fraudulently. They also denied knowing how the passport ended up in Tonga, or receiving an application for a Western Samoan passport from either Jin Jipei or his alias, Kim Kwan, a Korean.
Asked if they knew Western Samoan passports were being sold to foreigners, both said: “No.”
Tomorrow’s Part 3 editorial, “Tuala Falenaoti: But what is happening is that the Samoa Observer has been publishing the truth.”