Public Report on Resort Las Vegas and granting of illegal Passports - December 3, 1997 - Emalus Campus
In March 1997, Mr. Richard Jong, approached the Government of Vanuatu and proposed a scheme whereby Vanuatu would sell passports. This proposal was promoted as a source of great benefit and revenue for the people of Vanuatu. It was proposed that 80,000 passports be sold. For each passport, the Government of Vanuatu would receive 700,000 vatu.
Initial contact regarding the scheme was made with the Prime Minister Serge Vohor, Finance Minister Willie Jimmy and the Attorney General. The Prime Minister responded favourably. After May 1997, contact was also made with the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Soksok who was also receptive.
The laws of Vanuatu do not permit the selling of passports. The Constitution requires residency of 10 years before a person can become a naturalized citizen. The Citizenship Act, s. 12(2) requires that in addition to having 10 years’ residency, a person must intend to reside in Vanuatu. There are also other conditions. Citizenship is granted by the Citizenship Committee which is appointed by the President on advice from the Prime Minister. Appointments to the Citizenship Committee must be gazetted.
The Passport Act provides that citizenship is a prerequisite to the issuance of a passport. Passports are issued by the Principal Passport Officer.
Diplomatic and Official Passports may be issued to persons holding specified positions or in “exceptional circumstances.”
Honourary citizenship may be granted pursuant to Section 20 of the Citizenship Act. However, honourary citizenship entails no right of residency and no entitlement to a Vanuatu passport. Mr. Jong applied for honourary citizenship in order to avoid the inconvenience of renewing his visitor’s visa.
In April 1997, The Prime Minister recommended to Mr. Bell and Mr. Manwo, who purported to be members of the Citizenship Committee (despite their names not having been gazetted) that Mr. Jong be granted Honourary Citizenship. Despite Mr. Jong’s application being irregular in several respects, honourary citizenship was purportedly bestowed on him on April 29, 1997. On May 5, 1997, he was granted a passport.
The granting of the honourary citizenship and passport were improper and the passport was granted illegally.
Mr. Jong, as part of the scheme to sell passports, also proposed a 350 room, US$100 million hotel for Efate. Inquiries revealed that Mr. Jung had no experience with such projects, had not done any basic preparation or inquiries about the hotel and he failed to demonstrate his financial ability to build the hotel. Nevertheless, on June 19, 1997, the Council of Ministers approved the scheme for the hotel and the sale of residency permits. On June 20, 1997, Resort Las Vegas Ltd (RLV) was approved as agent to manage the permanent residency scheme. This company was controlled by Richard Jung. The Ombudsman found that in approving the scheme, the Council of Ministers acted unreasonably, incompetently and irresponsibly. The economics of the scheme provided that the Government of Vanuatu to receive 700,000 vatu for each permit. However, RLV intended to sell them for 1,856,000 vatu. RLV sub contracted to a company known as Sydney Economic and Trade Centre Pty which was to sell the permits for up to 3,000,000 vatu. The scheme provided that a purchaser of a residency permit could obtain Vanuatu citizenship 10 years after purchase regardless of actual residency. This was contrary to the Citizenship Act.
On September 8, 1997 Mr. Jung was appointed Vanuatu Trade Commissioner to Korea, subject to confirmation of the South Korean Government. Without approval from the Citizenship Committee, an official passport was issued to Jung on September 10, 1997. This contravened the provisions of the Diplomatic and Official Passports Act.
At no relevant time did any Government official check Mr. Jung’s background. The Ombudsman’s investigation revealed that he was wanted by the South Korean Police for counterfeiting. He also and had a criminal record in Korea.
The Prime Minister was found by the Ombudsman to have acted in a grossly incompetent and naïve manner in their dealings with Mr. Jung. The report suggests that the Director of Foreign Affairs, the Principal Immigration Officer and another public servant may have been guilty of forgery, conspiracy and uttering in regard to their involvement. The report also concluded that the passports granted to Mr. Jung were never valid.
· That the matter of the issue of citizenship and ordinary passports to Mr. Jung be referred to the Public Prosecutor and Police Commissioner
· That Mr. Jung’s citizenship certificate and his ordinary and official passports be surrendered and destroyed and that his appointment as Trade Commissioner be cancelled.
· That the Public Service Commission convene a disciplinary hearing concerning the involvement of Mr Sese, the Director of Foreign Affairs.
· That Hon Vidal Soksok resign as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Mr. Serge Vohor resign as Prime Minister.
· That a Principal Passport Officer be appointed.
· That the Attorney General put in place a system for the timely gazetting of notices.
· That Citizenship Committee keep minutes of its meetings.
· That the President consider appointing the new Principal Immigration Officer to the Citizenship Committee.
Written by Edward R. Hill
UNDP Governance and Accountability Project
© Ombudsman of Vanuatu
Published here by University of the South Pacific, School of Law Web Site - www.vanuatu.usp.ac.fj