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SCAMMERS USED ‘STATEMENT’ FROM SAMOA HEAD OF STATE Fake New Zealand residency stamps being investigated

By Marieta Heidi Ilalio and NZPA

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, June 20, 2009) – Immigration is investigating reports that the late Head of State, His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili II, is being used in an alleged "passport" scam operated by a Maori sovereignty organisation.

Head of Immigration and CEO of the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Auseugaefa Va’asatia Poloma Komiti said the claims have left many government officials sad.

Speaking to the Weekend Observer yesterday, Auseugaefa said they are working with the Samoa Consulate Office in New Zealand to get more details about the matter.

But because it is the weekend there, further investigation has been put on hold until next week.

According to reports from New Zealand, however, the leader of the organisation Gerrard Otimi is charging NZ$500 (T$850) for "residency stamps" allowing Pacific Island overstayers to remain in New Zealand as "part of his hapu."

The New Zealand Herald says Mr Otimi has shown those seeking help from him to stay in New Zealand the "stamps" he was issuing complete with a statement from Malietoa Tanumafili II.

What the statement says has not been disclosed but Malietoa died in 2007.

When confronted about the possibility that he was running a scam, Mr. Otimi said "It may sound like a scam to you but you tell me if Malietoa is a scam."

He admits that about 50 families have each paid him for the "documents" and in return he gave them $500 of "Maori barter currency" to canc

el out the fee.

Auseugaefa said he was deeply disappointed about using the late Head of State’s name.

"I am very sad to hear this and it’s a shame that the name of a highly respected Head of State of the Independent state of Samoa has been used in this," Auseugaefa said.

The top government official expressed disappointment about Mr Otimi’s claims.

Whether or not Samoans involved will be returned, he did not say.

"We need to work with our office in New Zealand to find out what is going on," he said. "At this stage, we’ll wait and see."

Meanwhile, hundreds of overstayers, most of them Samoan, are continuing to pay for bogus residence visas despite the scam being uncovered.

Mr Otimi has acknowledged his visas have no standing with immigration authorities, but he was reported yesterday to still be doing a roaring trade in Auckland.

TV One news showed a hall packed with people who had come to collect their passports, stamped with the visas, and a certificate confirming their "adoption".

It said 90 passports were handed over – NZ$45,000 (T$75,000) for Mr Otimi, who said "the money is in the bank".

And it might not be just money the overstayers are losing.

TV One reported Samoan authorities were considering whether a fake visa stamp in a passport rendered it invalid.

New Zealand government ministers have described the scam as "disgusting" and "deplorable" and urged victims to go to the police.

The police have launched an investigation but so far no complaints have been laid.

The overstayers fear being sent home if they approach the authorities, and many of them appear to believe Mr Otimi’s visas really do mean they can legally stay in New Zealand.

One Samoan man confirmed he had paid NZ$500 to join Mr Otimi’s hapu.

"It’s because these people came to remove us so we asked for help and then called Gerard Otimi," he said.

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