A.G. declares conflict of interest in OneCoin investigation

Attorney General, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff, has declared his conflict of interest in an ongoing investigation into a “Hybrid Ponzi-Pyramid Scheme” popularly known as OneCoin.

A spontaneous intelligence report from the New Zealand Financial Intelligence Unit (N.Z.F.I.U.) identified two local churches as being involved in the scheme. 

That report was disseminated by the Central Bank of Samoa to the Office of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Police for their investigation.

The two churches that are alleged to have invested in the multi-billion tala scheme are the Worship Center Church and the Samoa Independent Seventy Day Adventist Church (S.I.S.D.A.C.)  

In an email to the Samoa Observer, the Attorney General said he is not actively involved in reviewing the report because of his conflict of interest. 

“I confirm I have declared a conflict of interest to the Central Bank with regards the One Coin investigation, as I have known for many years and have a relationship with Senior Pastor Viliamu Mafo'e,” Lemalu said. 

“And therefore, cannot undertake to advise on an investigation that refers to allegations against him or his associated congregations. 

“That matter is fully delegated to Assistant Attorney General Sefo Ainuu, and I will not be involved." 

It was not possible to get a comment from Mr. Ainu’u. 

The Central Bank of Samoa in a previous statement warned members of the public about OneCoin. 

It referred to the scheme as a “scam” because it contains ingredients of both types of scams – Ponzi Scheme and Pyramid Scheme. 

In May this year, when the Samoa Observer attempted to contact the Leader of the Worship Centre Church, Apostle Viliamu Mafo'e, questions were referred to the Church’s IT engineer, Fono Toluono. 

Mr. Toluono confirmed that members of the church and many others from Samoa including top government officials and Members of Parliament invested in OneCoin. 

He said the people invested in the scheme out of their own freewill. 

He also denied reports that OneCoin is a scam. 

Mr. Toluono said when people join OneCoin, they are given contracts. 

The investors are then called "independent marketing associates".

“Everyone that joins can be a sales person and I can ask you to join and sell you the product and the product is education.”

Asked if using education to attract people to join, and take their money without paying returns, is not a scam, Mr. Toluono said: “It is not a scam because I got returns.”

Those returns Mr. Toluono referred to, came in the form of a "diploma" he received from an online course and according to him, it was worth it.  

“To me it’s like paying my fee for university and what I’m paying for is worth and getting educated. I bought a package called trader which and in return I got a diploma and got coins from that package.”

S.I.S.D.A.C. had denied being part of OneCoin when Samoa Observer approached one of its leaders earlier in May. 

World Executive Secretary of S.I.S.D.A.C., Pastor Iafeta Masipau, said their local branch is not involved.

“The (S.I.S.D.A.C.) church in New Zealand is involved but not us in Samoa,” said Pastor Masipau. 

The Executive Secretary said he is aware of the report from the Central Bank but is uncertain why their local church has been accused.

“That is what I am looking at why the Samoa Church is mentioned because none of us here in Samoa is involved,” he said.

“There might be some individuals from the church that have joined (OneCoin) but not us in Samoa.”

After warnings from the Central Bank and reports on the N.Z.F.I.U. report surfaced in April this year, OneCoin issued a response in its defense. 

The company in its statement in May denied its operation being a scam. 

Furthermore it also stated that no one has authority to act or make statements on behalf of the company in Samoa and New Zealand. 

 “Let it be clear that neither OneCoin nor OneLife companies have organisation, representation or employees in Samoa and New Zealand,” the statement reads.

“OneCoin is a centralised, closed cryptocurrency. The closed system has strict A.M.L. and C.F.T.  (Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism) policies as well as K.Y.C. (Know your customer) implementation, as in our case, prevents anonymous transactions."

The company explained that the current legislation on pyramid sales, its origin and expressed purpose is consumer protection, and the user who are part of the OneLife Network are not consumers, but Independent Marketing Associates (I.M.A.) — meaning they are self-employed business owners.

“We would like to state that the company does not consider it has any responsibility for activities directed by OneLife I.M.A at Samoa and New Zealand. We do care about I.M.A behaviour and insist on them being compliant with local regulations.”

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