King agrees to set up royal commission to investigate Tonga’s passport scandal

His Majesty King Tupou VI assented to a move by Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s government to establish a Royal Commission to investigate the Tongan passport scandal.

This has been confirmed to Kaniva News by Tonga’s Minister of Police, Hon Pōhiva Tuʻiʻonetoa.

Hon Tuʻiʻonetoa said when the new government approached the king recently and asked for His assent to the commission His Majesty told them he had already approved the Royal Commission in 2014.

But the former government delayed establishing the commission because they had queries about it and wanted to make another proposal to the king.

The former government was ousted in last Novermbers’ general election before the royal commission was set up.

Dr Tuʻiʻonetoa, who was talking to us from the Cook Islands last week while attending a meeting said they expected to meet in two week times to set up the commission.

Kaniva previously reported that:

Tuʻiʻonetoa, Tonga’s former General Auditor believed the commission’s inquiry would help bring many answers to questions that had gone unanswered for years regarding the sale and issuing  of Tongan passports particularly to foreigners.

The Tongan passport scandal  

Hon. Tu’i’onetoa told Kaniva News  last year that a passport scandal allegedly involving the Prime Minister’s office in 2014 was one of  the two biggest he had come across in the past three years.

His claim came after audited documents leaked to New Zealand media, including Kaniva News, showed a table headed “Summary of holders of ordinary passport with no naturalisation certificate during audit period”.

A list of 12 Chinese nationals was then displayed  in the table.

The documents also noted that when the auditor asked the Immigration Department to explain why Chinese nationals were being given Tongan passports without holding naturalisation certificate as the law requires, he was told “the direction was given from higher authority.”

 No law

When the Auditor’s office urged the Attorney General to charge the people involved, his office said they could not do anything because there was no law that could be used to launch a prosecution.

Tongan passports were issued illegally to Asians in the 1980s. In 1999 the sale of the Tongan passports was stopped, with the government saying it had sold almost 7000 passports to Asians for almost US$40 million (TP277 million/NZ$181 million).

The termination of the sales came after ‘Akilisi Pohiva, who was then an opposition Parliamentarian, launched a lawsuit against the government for selling the passports. The government then changed the kingdom’s constitution to allow the sale.

The then king, King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, decided the money needed to be invested overseas, saying that if it was deposited in Tonga “the government would only spend it on roads.”

The money was invested in a number of overseas funds at the suggestion of financial adviser Jesse Bogdonoff, a former Bank of America official who had been named as the king’s jester. In still disputed circumstances, most of the money that had been invested in the Tongan Trust Fund was lost.

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