By Barbara Dreaver, 1 news Pacific Correspondent. This story originally appeared on TVNZ and is republished with permission
The Immigration Advisors Authority is investigating an elaborate passport scheme involving a South Auckland Tongan church promising residency for cash.
1 NEWS understands hundreds of over-stayers have been caught up in the scheme so far including people stuck here because of border closures.
Meetings promoting the scam have been held at the ‘I Laumalie Mo Mo’oni church in Mangere.
Over-stayers and those wanting residency have been told if they join the church and pay $500 per person or $800 a family a High Court judge will sign off on their residency.
Lawyer Nalesoni Tupou says in the last 48 hours he’s found more than 100 people who have paid over money, and add to that family members that’s potentially several hundred people affected.
Reverend Tevita Paipa, who helped collect passports and money taken from over-stayers, told 1 NEWS he would give an interview about it but had to pray and fast first.
Witnesses claim another man involved, who’s not associated with the church, told them Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appointed him a licenced immigration agent.
They were also told the first 10 families to pay up would get a free home to be provided by the Government.
A plane would also be given to the church and members would be able to take a two week trip to Tonga.
Community leader Salote Heleta Lilo says while it may sound too good to be true for Tongans, being told this in a place of worship backed by their minister or faifekau, adds extra credibility.
“When you talk about faifekau they have a lot of power in our community and when a faifekau say things like this people are bound to believe and will do it,” she said.
Both her and Nalesoni Tupou are alerting Tongans not to get involved or pay over any money.
The Immigration Advisors Authority says it is keen to hear from anyone who thinks they are a victim or know others who are.