In the end Tuilaepa won
Today we are publishing the continuing story of a five part editorial. To appreciate the entire set of events, we invite you to continue reading the final instalment tomorrow.
In the end Tuilaepa won.
Parliament did not debate the passport scandal and the Foreign Investment Bill. And it was most possibly that victory of his that spurred him tirelessly on to become the country’s next Prime Minister.
Jin Jipei’s fate was finally decided on 17 June 1997. His Worship Tagaloa found him guilty as charged. He told the defendant: “This court must consider that other people like you must be deterred from breaking the laws of this country.”
Although His Worship did not accept the defendant’s claim that he thought the passport he had bought was valid, he found in Jipei’s favour that he had no previous conviction “at least in this country.”
When Jipei’s counsel Harry Schuster asked for leniency, he reminded the court that as a “total stranger to Samoa” his client had lost a considerable amount of money having bought the unauthorized passport for $US3,000.
He submitted that the Samoan Immigration Office was partly to blame for his client’s predicament, since it was from there that the passport had gone missing.
His Worship fined Jipei $200 or a month in jail in default.
Across the front page of the Samoa Observer the next morning ran a story under the heading “Guilty, Jipei fined $200.”
And now that he was a free man Jin Jipei vanished. No one knew when he slipped out of the country and which country he had gone to. No one wanted to know either what passport he might have used when he fled. But everywhere everyone was thankful; they all sighed with relief; they all thought Jin Jipei’s short sojourn in Paradise would have been his most horrible nightmare ever.
Unlike Tuilaepa though, Tofilau was not through yet with the passport scandal. It appeared as if he was still bothered by it. In the next session of Parliament he took the floor and once again denied any knowledge of passports being sold abroad.
“Samoa,” he told Parliament, “God knows I did not sell any passports.”
His denial was carried on the front page of the Samoa Observer on 19 June 1997 under the headline: “PM denies selling passports”
It said Tofilau insisted he had never authorized anyone to sell passports but he knew others before him who had done this. He then went on to give details. He told Parliament that a Chinese family had approached him with “$500 to buy a Western Samoan passport” but he denied the request.
“I did not delegate any authority to anyone to issue passports,” he said. “(But if any passports have been sold) that has now been stopped. I have now delegated the authority to the secretary to government.”
He went on to insist that “those (who were there) before I became PM did. Who then had issued passports?” Tofilau asked.
By that time he had been PM for some 13 years. Four others had been PM before him; they had all assumed the responsibilities of the Minister of Immigration’s.
But then perhaps Tofilau had forgotten that he himself had authorized the issuing of a few passports to foreigners. Back on 23 December 1985 he authorised citizenship and a passport for the American businessman Patrick Reid; he did that 20 days after he’d received Reid’s application.
Then also in 1995 he and his Minister of Finance, Tuilaepa Sailele, sold a citizenship and a passport to a Chinese named Chen Zizhao. A story about that transaction was published on the front page of the Samoa Observer on 26 June 1997 under the headline: “Tofilau, Tuilaepa grant residence, citizenship.”
It read: “Contrary to their repeated denials, both Prime Minister Tofilau and Finance Minister Tuilaepa have been aware of Western Samoan citizenships being sold to Chinese (nationals).”
On 6 July 1995, Tofilau granted Chen Zizhao a “certificate of permanent residence.”
Four months later on 16 November 1995, Tuilaepa granted the same man a “certificate of naturalisation.”
On that same day, a government official receipt was made out to Chen Zizhao for $2,000.
The “naturalization” document declared that “upon taking the oath of allegiance (Chen Zizhao) shall be a citizen of Western Samoa.”
Five months later, Chen Zizhao’s Western Samoan citizenship was granted. He was also issued with his Western Samoan passport. Copies of these documents were published alongside the story. But Chen Zizhao was not a Samoan. He was Chinese.
Although both Tofilau and Tuilaepa were not impressed it was Tuilaepa who made his anger publicly known. He did not try to conceal it when he addressed Parliament on 26 June 1997.
It was when he repeated his accusation that the Samoa Observer was being “run by fools.”
It was easy to see why he was angry. On the front page of the paper the day before he was featured in a story under the headline: “Who granted Samoan citizenship to Li Yuan?”
In those days, everyone was asking this question but only a few knew its answer. And those who knew the answer were not prepared to share it. They were all scared of the government. So that it soon became clear that public interest in the name “Li Yuan” was growing rapidly.
So who was Li Yuan? She was a Chinese girl.
Born on 3 October 1979 in Hefei City, Anhui Province, China, her natural father was Li Shengye, her mother was Yuan Fengying.
In early 1996, Li Yuan turned up in Samoa.
And on 10 April 1996, she was adopted by an Apian couple named Kenny Young and Ming Young.
From there, her name changed to Angela Li Young. She was a bright girl. She went on to attend the National University of Samoa for one year.
And then Miss Li Young was granted a Western Samoan citizenship. This document would render her eligible for a government scholarship to study overseas, which was when the public started grumbling.
Still, Miss Li Young got her scholarship and she went on to study medicine at Otago University.
But then no one in the government would talk about it. Even Parliament was tight-lipped about it.
Although MP Le Mamea Ropati had raised the matter in Parliament, he did not reveal the messy details.
In retaliation, Prime Minister Tofilau challenged Le Mamea to tell what he knew. Le Mamea did not.
Everyone then thought he should have kept quiet if he did not know what was going on. But Le Mamea knew a lot more than he had so far divulged, and yet for some reason he just refused to talk.
Tomorrow’s Part 5 editorial, ‘Prime Minister Tuilaepa issues Chinese girl, Lin Yuan, Samoan passport’