PM disobeys King’s order over diplomatic passport

E-mails between staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have revealed Prime Minister Lord Tu’ivakano ignored King Tupou VI’s warning not to issue any more diplomatic passports to Chinese man Sien Lee.

According to the e-mails, Sien Lee is a close friend of Her Majesty the Queen Mother.

Foreign Affairs staff sought confirmation from the Prime Minister about whether the passports would be issued, reminding him of the king’s warning.

However, the Prime Minister  told Foreign Affairs Secretary Mahe ‘Uli’uli Tupouniua to either issue it or he would bear the consequences.

The Prime Minister ordered Tupouniua to issue  Lee with a diplomatic passport. He warned Lee that he would not be issued with another passport if it is lost it before its expiry date.

It has been revealed that this was the fourth diplomatic passport issued to Lee. He said he had lost two other diplomatic passports which had been issued to him.

It has been also revealed the Prime Minister told Tupouniua not to issue a diplomatic passport to Lee’s wife, Yi Qian Lee.

However, a week later the ministry approved an application for a passport for Lee’s wife.

She was issued with passport number R383792.

The staff e-mails showed they were worried about what would happen when the king found out what had happened.

“It’s the prerogative of the PM to approve the issuance of Dip Ppts. I suggest we abide by his direction at this stage as he made it very clear to me yesterday that we take action or else,” Tupouniua wrote.

Aleteisi Tangi asked Tupouniua what would happen if the king found out they had not obeyed his orders.

“I’d hate to be around when HM Tupou VI, finds out,” Tangi wrote.

Auditor’s report

An auditor’s report revealed that 12 passports were issued to Asians who did not hold naturalisation certificates.

The Tongan constitution stipulates that foreigners who apply for Tongan passports must first be granted letters of naturalisation. This process requires applicants to live in the Kingdom for at least five years before they can apply.

The report said that when auditors asked why these passports had been issued in breach of the passport regulations, they were told directions came from a “higher authority to proceed with processing these applicants.”

The report shows Mr Lee had been issued with eight ordinary Tongan passports since 2005 as well as diplomatic documents. He was issued with the last Tongan ordinary passport in October 2012.

His wife has been issued seven ordinary Tongan passport since 2001. She was last issued with an ordinary passport in January 2012.

“This practice is unacceptable and puts the country’s reputation at risk and should be discontinued immediately,” the auditor’s  report said.

Immigration officer jailed

In a separate case, last week the Tongan Supreme Court sentenced a former senior Tongan Immigration officer and a woman co-accused for the attempted forgery of two Tongan passports.

'Oto Tu'itupou and Sofia Laukau were sentenced by Justice Charles Cato in Nuku'alofa.

 Tu’itupou will serve two-years and six-months while Laukau serves one year and three-months imprisonment at Hu'atolitoli Prison.

Tongan Facebook users have questioned whether the law is being applied equally in all passport-related cases.

Kaniva News has contacted the Prime Minister on his private email but has so far received no response.

We also  made several attempts to obtain comment from the king's Lord Chamberlain,  but the Palace Office did not respond to our emails..

A continuing concern

The issuing of passports by Pacific island nations to Chinese and other Asian nationals has been a matter of concern to citizens, opposition groups and international banking and crime fighting authorities for many years.

As reported in Kaniva News, last year Tongan opposition Leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva tabled a question in Parliament about passports previously issued to the Lees.

According to a recent report on TVNZ, a confidential immigration audit report presented to the Tongan government last year found dozens of diplomatic and ordinary passports had been issued to Chinese citizens. The audit office believes they were not entitled to them.

In some Pacific nations, passports are sold outright. Australian researcher Anthony Fossen has estimated that the sale of passports had raised more than $150 million to island nations.

The main points

  • Leaked documents show the Tongan Prime Minister disobeyed an order from the King not to issue a diplomatic passport to a Chinese man.
  • The Chinese man and his wife have already been issued with 15 Tongan passports.
  • E-mails between staff in the kingdom’s Foreign office show they were being pressured to issue the documents and feared what would happen when the king found out.
  • The issuing – and in some cases sale – of passports by Pacific Islands nations to Chinese and other Asian citizens has been a matter of concern for many years.

For more information

‘Tongan PM caught up in probe into passport irregularities’

’15 Tongan passports issued to Chinese couple’

Fossen, A., 2, ‘Citizenship For Sale: Passports of Convenience From Pacific Island Tax Havens,’ in Commonwealth and Comparative Politics (2007) Volume 45, Number 1

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