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Letter # 33

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to you all!

"Few men who come to the islands leave them; they grow grey where they alighted; the palm shades and the trade-wind fans them till they die, perhaps cherishing to the last the fancy of a visit home, which is rarely made, more rarely enjoyed, and yet more rarely repeated. No part of the world exerts the same attractive power upon the visitor ..." So begins Chapter I of Robert Louis Stevenson's "In the South Seas" and his name has been forever linked with Samoa where he spent the last few years of his life and where he died and was buried on the 3rd of December 1894 on Mt Vaea.

I have lived in the islands and returned several times, and I plan to revisit Samoa where I lived and worked in 1978, and also the Kingdom of Tonga which Dieter Dyck's book "From Hell into Heaven" several Germans and Austrians seem to have their home. I plan to visit a German who built and now operates the Blue Lagoon Resort on nearby Foe'ata Island and an Austrian who runs the Lighthouse Bakery in Neiafu. Another German, Dieter Dyck, built the Tongan Beach Resort and wrote a book about his life in Tonga.

If the Guinness Book of Records is anything to go by, Tonga has two claims to fame. First, a tortoise given to the royal family by Captain Cook that lived for nearly two centuries. And second, the world’s heaviest monarch – King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV. Unchecked by the parliament they control, the king and the rest of the royal family treat the kingdom as their personal plaything. Here is a quick checklist of the most recent scandals:

  • In 2000 the Kingdom's Crown Prince tried to sell the rights to his people’s’ genetic information – potentially worth millions – to Autogen, an Australian biotech company then run by the Aussie entrepreneur, Joseph (‘Diamond Joe’) Gutnick. The deal eventually fell through but only after a huge public outcry. Negotiations had taken place without any public debate or consultation.
  • The Royal Family organised what they thought were favourable rates on chartering a Boeing 757 for Royal Tongan Airlines from a fellow royal, the Sultan of Brunei. World aviation was awash in unused Boeing 757s but Royal Tongan Airlines paid top dollar and went broke. Cost to the kingdom: NZ$12 million at least.
  • Five years ago a friendly man from Piraeus , Greece , Peli Papadopoulos, convinced Tonga to let him create a ship registry selling the Tongan flag out of Athens . To the acute embarrassment of Nuku’alofa, it turned out that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda operation were moving ships around under this Tongan flag. Washington exploded. Cost to the Kingdom: Tonga paid penance to an angry Washington by sending its palace guard off to Baghdad to bring democracy and freedom to Iraq .
  • Tonga sold citizenships and passports to characters of questionable background -- including exiled dictator Ferdinand Marcos and wife Imelda -- and made around NZ$56 million which the king insisted stay in his Bank of America account rather than brought into Tonga because he feared the government would just spend it.
  • The king of Tonga The king appointed as court jester a self-appointed Californian Buddhist priest cum Bank of America clerk Jessie Bogdonoff, and gave him the proceeds of passport sales (see above) to invest. He went into the morally dubious viatical industry which involves paying out on life insurance for terminal ill people -- in this case Aids patients -- in the hope they die sooner rather than later. They didn’t and Bogdonoff lost the lot. Cost to the Kingdom: NZ$37 million
  • On the king’s CV there is a listing for the hitherto unheard of “World Peace Prize-Harvetor’s Prize”. The bogus award was granted by some South Korean Christians who said they were going to spend billions in Tonga on the world’s first plant that could convert sea water into natural gas. It was never clear what the scam was but the deal the Tongan Government signed mentioned storing nuclear waste on a Tongan island.
  • The happy couple In 2003 the king’s oldest granddaughter and seventh in line to the throne, Princess Salote Lupepeu'u Tuita, 26, was married in a lavish ceremony, complete with limousines flown in from California, to Mata'i'ulua Fusitu'a. German television’s coverage of the wedding, "1000 Piglets for the Princess", made by Auckland-based documentary maker Ulli Weissbach, revealed the extravagance down to Royal Leg-Holders, children who sat on the ground and lifted her feet off the ground. 2000 guests were invited and the feast lasted for a week.
  • The same princess is said to have made a personal fortune of US$25 million from her 60 percent ownership of Tongasat, Tonga's lucrative satellite business, and the king of this impoverished tiny nation is allegedly keeping 350 million US dollars in off-shore bank accounts.
Quite impressive for a tiny nation of 100,000-odd souls whose economy is based mostly on exports of baby squash and cash sent back by Tongans living abroad, isn't it?

Best wishes and from us all!
Peter & Padma & Malty& Rover
29 April 2006



My trip to Samoa   An Island to Oneself   Pigeon Island   Your holiday destination in Australia   The Road Not Taken   Bougainville Island   Desiderata   Words

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