SECOND CABINET MINISTER FALLS IN TONGA'S COURT JESTER SCANDAL

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (October 1, 2001 – Agence France-Presse)---A second cabinet minister resigned Monday as Tonga's political crisis deepened in the wake of revelations that King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV's "court jester" has lost millions of dollars of the kingdom's money.

Palace sources said Monday that Regent Princess Pilolevu ordered Education Minister Tutoatasi Fakafunua to resign after Friday's resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Tevita Tupou.

Police Minister Clive Edwards -- who is also the kingdom's hangman -- has been appointed deputy prime minister.

Edwards is also closely aligned with Pilolevu, who has been engaged in a long-standing power battle with her brother, Crown Prince Tupuoto'a, who, along with the king, is implicated in the missing millions. Both men are absent from the kingdom, which is currently ruled by the regent.

Pilolevu herself made millions of dollars in her own name leasing out Tonga's equatorial satellite slots.

Tupou was facing a possible impeachment over the loss of 20 million U.S. dollars, part of 30.7 million dollars raised by selling passports and citizenship to mainly Hong Kong Chinese in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Commoner MPs in the royal and noble dominated Parliament moved last week against Tupou when the extent of the losses to the Tonga Trust Fund was unveiled.

It turned out the king and the crown prince had acted on the advice of Jesse Bogdonoff of North Carolina, who claims to have made his money selling magnets to cure back pain.

In the late 1980s, Hong Kong businessman George Chen won royal approval to sell Tongan citizenships and special passports to mainly Asians, with a particular eye on Hong Kong Chinese, who were then worried about the handover to China. Among the first to get them were then exiled Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos, his wife Imelda, and daughters Aimee and Irene. Between 1983 and 1991 over 5,000 citizenships and passports were sold, raising 30.7 million dollars.

Chen put the money into a checking account, the Tonga Trust Fund, with the San Francisco branch of the Bank of America. The king said he would not allow the money to be bought into Tonga, as the government would only spend it on roads.

At the time Bogdonoff was working at the bank, and according to his own account in one of his company's newsletters, "he stumbled onto ... millions of dollars inexplicably invested in a checking account."

He said he found the king had placed the money there "to protect if from the squandering of the ministries in Tonga, because they tend to just go in and take money right and left for this project, that project."

Bogdonoff won royal approval to invest it and he claims he made the fund grow an additional 12 million dollars. But then he got moved out of the bank and he convinced the king to let him take the money too.

Bogdonoff also convinced the king to proclaim him court jester: "I thought, 'You know, I'm born on April Fool's Day. And I've never been able to capitalize on that. I ought to become the king's jester. I'm a natural-born fool."

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: http://www.afp.com/english/  Website: http://www.michaelfield.org 

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