Samoa’s passport fiasco and the Chinese chap named Jin Jipei!

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Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa

Poor Prime Minister, Tuilapea Sa’ilele Malielegaoi. 

One day he’s Donald Trump’s buddy, the next day he’s getting swamped in the head with trivial tales about people fooling around with his country’s bashed about, venerable passports. (Read story - P.M. Tuilaepa meets President Trump)

And now that he’s being drawn into taking a role, in the onerous task of investigating claims that Samoan passports are being sold online, a nagging question has emerged.

 It says: Had Tuilaepa been warned that he was about to inherit the mess that his mentor and idol, the late Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana, and his government of which he himself was a member, had left behind?

It would be good to know. 

All we know is that an email, that had been sent to the Samoa Observer by a person named “Joanna Slewion” had claimed that “someone is selling Samoan passports out there in Africa.”

The email went on to say: “He even fooled me into sending my 1000 U.S. dollars to him on the understanding that he was going to give me the passport to go to Europe.” 

Joanna Slewion’s email went on to say the money was sent over and then contact with whoever the receiver was stopped. 

However, according to the email, “someone out there has been processing Samoan passports for others who have been using them to travel to Europe.” 

When the email was received by the Samoa Observer, it was referred to the government for a possible investigation.

The matter was discussed during the press conference that followed soon afterwards, with Prime Minister Tuilaepa presiding.  

As a result of that press conference however, the story titled “P.M. backs probe into passports allegation,” was published in the Weekend Observer, on 29 September 2017. 

In that story, Tuilaepa, as the Minister of Immigration, was quoted as having “assured that an investigation into these claims will not leave anything to chance.”

He went on to pledge his full support to the investigation saying: “I am happy as I was informed they are investigating the matter.” 

He pointed out that “the technology available these days should help the investigation”, adding “If the investigation finds that a passport, or passports, have been issued illegally, they would be automatically be cancelled.”

He insisted: “The illegal passports, if there is one, can be easily cancelled. Whoever that’s behind this, it is a waste of time because these passports can be easily cancelled.”

He also said: “From the report given to me, it appears the matter went through the appropriate process, and nothing out of the ordinary stood out.”

He’s probably right.  

“However, that will not stop the investigation into the process to determine the issue at hand and of course, I will be informed when the investigation is completed.”

Fine.

In the meantime, the Government Press Secretary has confirmed that it had launched an investigation into allegations that someone is “selling Samoan passports” online.

The Passport Office said: “This is in relation to reports received by the Ministry last week that passports have been illegally procured.”

 It added: “The Ministry takes any allegation seriously and wishes to assure the public that security of our passports remains intact.  Relevant action in accordance with the law will be taken upon completion of the investigation.”  

“The Immigration Office will continue to monitor, review and improve processes to ensure the safety and security of Samoa.”

Well done, Immigration Office! 

Still, if you really want to know, the so-called passport menace that is now causing Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi frustration that we bet he just cannot ignore, started way back in 1997.

On 28 May that year, the story titled “Western Samoa Passport Scandal”, was published in the Samoa Observer.

It said: “A leaked parliamentary bill shows the Western Samoan government had planned to sell citizenship papers from as early as 1994.”

The story went on to say: “Under Article 19 of the Foreign Investment Bill drafted that year, Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana was given exclusive power to sell citizenships, permanent residencies, and temporary permits to foreign investors.”

At the time, reports from Hong Kong saying that “illegal passport sales of Samoan passports involving tens of thousands of dollars were being made there”, were later published in the Samoa Observer.

Other reports said “advertisements in Hong Kong newspapers were promoting Samoan passports for sale there, in anticipation of the 39-page Investment Bill becoming law in Samoa.”

And yet now that the passport scam had become public, the Investment Bill was shelved. It followed that the publicity being generated as result had become quite rampant, so that Prime Minister Tofilau refused to comment on the issue. 

It was around that time that the first Chinese armed with a Samoan passport, arrived at Faleolo Airport.

Jin Jipei, 45, was a Chinese businessman.

He sparked the controversy when he showed his Samoan travel document upon arrival, and he was right away taken to jail.

Sometime later, in a court hearing that followed, he was convicted as charged, and then later still he was gone; surreptitiously he had arrived and surreptitiously he had vanished. 

Now fast forward to 12 March 2015.

On that day, Radio New Zealand reported that “Samoa’s Foreign Investment Bill will enable wealthy foreigners to obtain the citizenship of Samoa by investment, had just had its second reading in Parliament.”

It also said that “under the planned C.I.P. (Citizenship by Investment Programme), foreign investors shall invest approximately EUR 1,5 million into the Samoan economy to obtain the country’s passport.”

“The proposed amount of investment for applicants of the Samoan Citizenship by Investment Programme was WST 4 million (app. EUR 1,5 million). The first step to acquire the citizenship of Samoa is to invest WST 1 million (app. EUR 373,500) for the permanent residency permit.” 

“After three years the investor can raise the amount of investment with another WST 3 million. Then the applicant will be eligible for the citizenship of Samoa.”

Radio New Zealand also said: “The main concern about the Samoan CIP was raised by the opposition parties, who feared that when the bill is enacted, it will afford foreign investors the same privileges - to and over - freehold land as those held by the local indigenous population”. 

“Meanwhile, the goal of the planned Samoa Citizenship by Investment Programme is to attract wealthy investors to the country, who can aid its future economic development.” 

Radio New Zealand also revealed that “in the last three years consultations were held with special governmental committees and with the general public.” 

“They created a Parliamentary Committee for investigation and public input, according to the Pacific Guardians.” 

“The Prime Minister of Samoa told Parliament that if the bill will be enacted, the time frame in which one may hold Samoan citizenship will be decreased from five years to three.” 

“The responsible governmental body for the Citizenship by Investment Program in Samoa will be the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour,” Radio New Zealand.

Unsurprisingly enough though, none of this information was made available at the time to the local media, including the Samoa Observer. 

Still, with the arrival of the Chinese businessman, Jin Jipei, whose Samoan travel documents shocked the government somewhat, so that he was quietly ushered out of the country shortly afterwards, today all is well in paradise, and even the media has never been vibrantly alert and freed.

Lastly, what has become of Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi’s request, for two diplomatic passports, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi? 

It would be good to know.

Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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