Pacific Islanders duped in a passport scam were told to stand in line with $500 in hand to get their passports stamped – before being told they were not allowed to leave the country for the next 10 years.
Hundreds of Pacific people in Hamilton and parts of South Auckland are thought to have fallen victim to the scam, in which fake residency stamps and visas were given out at various marae for a charge of $500.
A woman whose friends were ripped off by the scheme said it was hard not to believe that the visas were real, given that the stamps looked genuine and that the seminars were being led by Maori.
She said those at the meetings were each given a form to fill out, in order to gain their permanent-residency visa.
“There’s two lines – you hand your form in one then go to the other one with your $500 and they stamp your passport right there,” she said.
“From then on – say if you’re a Samoan [citizen] – you’re not called a Samoan any more. You’re a real Maori, a tangata whenua.
“But after that, they tell you you are not allowed ever to go overseas for 10 years. You can’t leave New Zealand.”
Hundreds of Islanders turned up at a meeting in Mangere yesterday where immigration adviser Ta’avao Vole warned them it was a scam.
The leader of the Maori group, Gerrard Otimi, showed the crowd the documents he was issuing – complete with a statement from the Samoan Head of State, Malietoa Tanumafili II.
Malietoa died in 2007.
On Wednesday night, up to 1000 people turned up at a marae in Manurewa for a meeting that was later cancelled because of the size of the crowd.
The night before, a meeting in Mangere drew hundreds. Gatherings have also been held in Hamilton.
The meetings are organised by people calling themselves a Maori sovereignty party, led by Mr Otimi.
Mr Otimi came under fire in 2005, when he began printing and trading using fake money called Maori pounds.
Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples said yesterday that he was “disgusted” that the scammers were deliberately fooling Pacific people.
The woman who spoke to the Herald – and did not want to be named for fear of repercussions – said she heard of the meetings from relatives who had been told by Maori co-workers.
She said it seemed to be a family affair, with different members leading the seminar and others organising the lines and stamping passports.
“They’re clever. They don’t advertise on the radio or on posters. They tell people at work and they spread the word among their families. But if you see the stamp, it’s really real-looking.”
Counties Manukau and Hamilton police are appealing to those who have paid the $500 for a fake residency stamp to come forward.
Source: NZ Herald