Hundreds duped in fake-visa scam

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

5 comments

  1. Fake visa scam not a rip-off, organiser says

    The leader of a self-styled Maori sovereignty group charging $500 for stamps in “passports” says he isn’t ripping anyone off, simply helping desperate people who want to stay in New Zealand.

    Gerrard Otimi said about 50 families had each paid him $500 for the documents – and in return he gave them $500 of “Maori barter currency” to cancel out the fee.

    Police say they have not had anyone come forward with complaints, possibly because many victims were overstayers.

    But the process was not illegal and he wasn’t ripping anyone off, Mr Otimi told Radio New Zealand.

    Mr Otimi said overstayers were dying because they couldn’t legally work here.

    They were stressed because they were in overcrowded accommodation and their children couldn’t go to school.

    He said he started the process when approached by a family that had a problem with Immigration New Zealand.

    He helped them out and it had grown from there, he said.

    He was not offering passports or visas, but for people to be part of his hapu.

    However, they were still overstayers and he couldn’t guarantee they could stay in New Zealand, he said.

    “The documents are to notarise them, and the Immigration Department, to say they are now under our care,” he told TV3’s Campbell Live yesterday.

    Hundreds of victims

    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.

    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.

    – With NZPA

  2. Police question man behind alleged visa scam

    The man behind an alleged scam that charged people hundreds of dollars for “passport stamps” is being questioned by police today.

    Gerard Otimi has not been arrested, but was being spoken to about the stamps, a police spokeswoman told NZPA.

    The Immigration Advisers Authority said today they were also investigating whether Mr Otimi was giving immigration advice without a licence.

    Mr Otimi had been under investigation by police for allegedly selling fake passports and visas to overstayers from the Pacific Islands .

    The authority said if evidence was found by police that Mr Otimi was giving immigration advice without being a licensed adviser, he could be prosecuted.

    “If there is evidence, we’ll certainly be taking a good hard look at it,” authority registrar Barry Smedts said.

    The authority was set up this year to stop rogue operators giving out incorrect immigration advice.

    All immigration advisers now need to be issued a licence to operate by the authority; those without one could be fined up to $100,000 and/or imprisoned for seven years.

    “Otimi’s passport activities appear to be in breach of the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act. We are cooperating with the police who are leading the investigation.”

    Licensed advisers were required to meet competency standards, participate in continuing professional development programmes and comply with a code of conduct.

    Mr Otimi has admitted taking $500 from 50 people for the documents – and in return he gave them $500 of “Maori barter currency” to cancel out the fee.

    “The documents are to notarise them, and the Immigration Department, to say they are now under our care,” he said last week.

    Mr Otimi last week agreed it was “exactly right” that the documents had no status at all with the immigration authorities.

    The scam has been slammed as “disgusting” by politicians.

    Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples said the fake passports and visas carried a crown crest as well as the organisers’ own flag and crest.

    “I really, really feel for the Pacific Island people who have been duped in this way,” he said.

    Pacific Island Affairs Minister Georgina te Heuheu urged victims to go to the police.

    “It’s deplorable that anyone would do this to some of the most vulnerable people in our country,” she said.

    Some Pacific Island people apparently believed the documents give them legal rights to stay in New Zealand, or at least carried some weight with immigration authorities.

    – NZPA

  3. Man accused of selling fake passports to Pacific Islanders charged

    The man at the centre of an alleged visa scam has been arrested by police.

    Gerard Otimi has been charged with three counts of deception.

    Detective Inspector John Timms said Mr Otimi was found this morning after three search warrants were executed in the Manukau area.

    He said $40,000 cash and $5,000 blank hapu certificates were found.

    Mr Timms said certificates with peoples’ names on them were also found but he could not say how many.

    Mr Timms appealed to people who had paid Otimi money for a stamp in their passports to come forward.

    However, asked if people with immigration problems would be granted amnesty, Mr Timms said he could give no such guarantees.

    He said Immigration NZ would look into each victim’s case.

    “I can’t give any amnesty here today, but all I can say is that myself and Immigration New Zealand encouraged these people to come forward.”

    Mr Timms said three people had made complaints to the police about Otimi, who was interviewed by police today.

    “They have information that will help us prosecute Mr Otimi, help us with our investigations.”

    Mr Tims described the people “preyed upon” by the alleged scam as “vulnerable”.

    He said there was a lot to do in the police investigation.

    Detective Senior Sergeant Dave Pizzini said police will try to reimburse people taken in by the alleged scam.

    Mr Pizzini said Otimi had been co-operating with the police investigation.

    “He’s a very passionate man who believes in his cause. He has welcomed the police investigation and he is looking forward to having certain issues being played out in the criminal court,” he said.

    Mr Pizzini said further charges could be laid against Otimi.

    Otimi has been under investigation by police for allegedly selling fake passports and visas to over-stayers from the Pacific Islands.

    The scam has been slammed as “disgusting” by politicians.

    Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples said the fake passports and visas carried a crown crest as well as the organisers’ own flag and crest.

    “I really, really feel for the Pacific Island people who have been duped in this way,” Mr Sharples said.

    Pacific Island Affairs Minister Georgina te Heuheu urged victims to go to the police.

    “It’s deplorable that anyone would do this to some of the most vulnerable people in our country,” she said.

    – with NZPA

  4. Discretion urged on visa scam

    Discretion should be used by Police and Immigration New Zealand while they try to get overstayers to come forward to help prosecute a man at the centre of a visa scam, an immigration consultant says.

    Gerrard Otimi will appear in the Manukau District Court today facing three counts of deception related to Pacific Island overstayers paying $500 for their passports to be stamped and to be adopted into Mr Otimi’s hapu.

    Yesterday, three search warrants in the Manukau area turned up $40,000 in cash, as well as 5000 blank “hapu certificates”.

    Detective Inspector John Timms appealed to people who had paid Otimi to come forward. However, there was no guarantee of amnesty. Instead, Immigration NZ would look into each victim’s case.

    “I can’t give any amnesty here today, but all I can say is that myself and Immigration New Zealand encourage these people to come forward.”

    However, consultant Tuariki Delamere said officials already used their discretion when dealing with overstayers who could offer information on scammers. Police wouldn’t have much luck gathering more evidence if they didn’t take a broader view.

    In a year he dealt with up to 20 cases where Immigration NZ guaranteed amnesty to individuals.

    “At the end of the day these people are overstayers. No one in their right mind who is an overstayer is going to go to the cops or immigration when there’s the possibility they’d be arrested. So why would you do it?

    “But if they [the authorities] want evidence they’re going to have to get these people in and tell them, ‘we’re not going to arrest you, serve you a removal order or detain you’.”

    Mr Delamere said he was often given those undertakings in written form.

    “They do it, it’s not a big deal. They’re not going to give them any [residency] permit.”

    Tongan Advisory Council chairman Melino Maka said the situation exposed what hundreds of Pacific Island families had been complaining about for years.

    “We’ve been raising these issues for decades but they’ve been swept under the carpet.

    “Stories of rip-offs have generally been ignored by immigration compliance officers when serving removal orders and victims are not assisted to get any redress,” Mr Maka said.

    He hoped the publicity around Mr Otimi and the recent auditor-general’s report would lead to greater change at the service.

    Immigration Advisers Authority registrar Barry Smedts said that because immigration consultants had been required to gain a licence to practise only since May 4, it was not known how many “rogue” consultants were operating.

  5. Courts have no right to judge tikanga Maori – Otimi supporter

    Supporters of the man at the centre of an alleged visa scam say the courts have no right to judge on issues of tikanga Maori – or Maori custom.

    Gerrard Otimi appeared in court this morning and entered no plea on three charges of deception.

    The charges against Otimi relate to Pacific Island overstayers paying $500 for their passports to be stamped and to be adopted into his hapu.

    Outside court a supporter, Amato Akarana Rewi, said the charges against Otimi were “bullsh**” and should be heard in the Supreme Court.

    “This court has no jurisdiction over tikanga Maori, it has no right at all. Statute is void to the sovereign Maori nation.

    Mr Rewi said there was no validity in the charges at all and they had been laid “under assumption of Parliamentary sovereignty” but that had no meaning.

    Earlier, Otimi was led towards the dock, accompanied by a kuia who performed a karanga.

    Otimi was remanded on bail and told to surrender his passport.

    Before the hearing, he approached the media inside court and told them to leave the courtroom.

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    “News media has done enough damage to the whole thing,” Mr Otimi said.

    He stood near the dock and was dressed in a full-length leather coat with his greying hair in a top-knot.

    While he stood, Mr Rewi approached him but was turned away by a police officer.

    Mr Rewi told the police officer: “I’m not one of your bloody slaves.”

    As Otimi walked from the dock, one supporter yelled out “kia kaha [be strong]”.

    Outside court, Otimi’s daughter, Joanne, said people had been calling her up and crying on the phone begging for help with immigration matters.

    She said more people had asked for the help of her father’s hapu since the story broke but no one had asked for their money back.

    “They don’t want it because they’ve been given their freedom.”

    She said the hapu would be holding meetings but would not be issuing any more certificates.

    “We’ve put a hold on registrations at this stage until everything is in order, until everyone knows what’s going on.”

    Supporters of Otimi from the Pacific Island community gathered outside court and sang “we are free”.

    The three charges of deception relate to five complainants named in court documents.

    Mr Otimi will next appear in court on August 5.

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