By Kalafi Moala
Auckland, New Zealand: A major immigration scam targets vulnerable Tongans at a South Auckland Tonga Church, ‘I Laumalie mo Mo’oni, located in Mangere where the minister, Rev. Tevita Paipa Vave, is offering permanent residency visa status for $500 each, or $800 per family.
Ironically, the name of the Church means “In Spirit and Truth,” but the last thing one expects from a church with that name is a scam.
According to New Zealand based lawyer, Nalesoni Tupou, he has discovered that “in the last 48 hours” over 100 people have signed up for the scam. It is not only illegal, according to the lawyer, but it is a huge rip-off scheme, extracting money from poor people. And for a church minister to do this is totally unexpected.
But desperate people do desperate things, and thus explains why hundreds of people, according to TVNZ Pacific Correspondent, Barbara Dreaver, will line up for this false claim of authorization to issue visas. It is assumed that most of the people falling for this scam are over stayers who will try anything hoping to become legal residents.
Rev. Tevita Paipa Vave told “clients” that a High Court judge will be issuing the visas, and that will be done after they will take everyone on a tour of Tauranga and other places before returning to Auckland for the issuance of their visas.
When Barbara Dreaver approached Rev. Tevita Paipa for an interview, he was shown on TV saying that he had no time but will make contact later. He also said that he had to “pray and fast” about it. Barbara said that he never contacted her again.
A man purported to be one of the workers from the church told TVNZ that Prime Minister Jacinda Adern has authorized him to be an immigration agent. Several meetings have been held at minster’s Mangere house where people come to sign up for the scam. They not only have to pay money but also submit their Tongan passports.
There were also false promises of a free house provided by the New Zealand government for those that sign up first and pay their fee, according to media reports. Then another promise that the church will purchase its own aircraft and transport members for free back to Tonga.
Tongans who live in Auckland are especially ashamed of this fraudulent scheme within their community. This is the second major one that has affected the Tongan community in Auckland. There have been minor ones as well.
The last major scam was in 2012, when a group that claimed Maori Sovereignty offered permanent residency status for money. Hundreds of Tongans signed up for this. This was stopped by Immigration and effectively prosecuted. But it does not seem the Tongan community have learned anything from these previous scams.
Salote Heleta Lilo, a community leader and legitimate immigration agent said that what makes it hard in this case is that it is a Church Minister – faifekau – who is propagating the scam.
“Tongans have respect for a Minister, and so when a Minister says something the people believe it to be true,” she said.
Complaints have been filed with Immigration New Zealand, and investigation is ongoing.