Internal Affairs Minister Andrew Napuat.

Despite initial denials by senior Police officers, the Daily Post has received confirmation that on Thursday night the Vanuatu Police Force arrested no less than six persons of Chinese nationality.

Some or all of them possessed Vanuatu citizenship.

In a late-night raid, a joint Immigration Services and Police task force stormed a house located on the wharf road. The Daily Post was informed that they appeared to be in the process of hiding incriminating materials.

The accused are currently being detained before they are handed over to Chinese authorities, that have traveled to Vanuatu. It is not yet known how, when or where the individuals will be transported if they are not allowed to stay in Vanuatu.

Chinese law enforcement officers were not directly involved in the raid, but provided assistance to Police by identifying the location the people were staying.

These Vanuatu passport-holders were reportedly identified by Chinese authorities of operating an illegal internet-based scam against people in China from a property in Port Vila.

One of the arrested is said to be a woman named Yuanyuan Chen, who obtained Vanuatu citizenship in 2017. Late in 2018, she changed her first name to Liana, and had a new passport issued.

But INTERPOL had issued a red notice seeking the arrest of Ms Chen in 2012. Officials were asked how Ms Chen managed to get through the due diligence process without an INTERPOL check.

They responded that her wanted notice was not on a publicly circulated list initially, and officials in Vanuatu, which had not yet joined INTERPOL, did not see it.

They told the Daily Post that she came to their attention by other means, and in the course of their inquiries, they discovered the Red Notice. Vanuatu had joined INTERPOL by that time.

A senior Internal Affairs official insisted that this was a ‘normal’ operation, but it is believed that this is the first time so many Chinese nationals have been arrested in Vanuatu on the basis of warrants from overseas.

The Daily Post has confirmed that six Chinese Law Enforcement officials arrived in Vanuatu shortly before the operation. They played no part in the actual arrests, however, which were carried out by local Police under the direction of the Commander of the southern division, Jackson Noal. It’s understood that Vanuatu’s anti-money laundering unit was involved in the investigation.

The Daily Post also received confirmation that the arrested had allegedly made false representations on their citizenship applications.

The detainees were arrested on the basis of these alleged false statements. If their citizenship is revoked, the way will be cleared to issue a Ministerial order to deport the six. It is understood that they will be handed over directly to Chinese law enforcement, who will transport them back to China.

The six are not accused of having committed any crime during their time in Vanuatu.

The operation was initiated by Police following a briefing by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Andrew Napuat.

Speaking to Daily Post yesterday, the Internal Affairs Minister said, “I regard this as a very important duty for myself as Minister to continue to safeguard our integrity and sovereignty, to protect our country from people who are not supposed to be in Vanuatu.”

He said many people wish to come to Vanuatu and the country welcomes good people, such as genuine investors.

He said this is a normal process of work every time there is something suspicious and in line with Section 53 of the Immigration Act, which warrants him to issue ministerial orders to be implemented by the Immigration and police officers.

“What happened was I issued a Removal Order this week, which the Immigration officers and the police are working on,” he said.

The Minister added the Chinese police couldn’t do anything here since it’s Vanuatu’s jurisdiction, so Vanuatu officers conducted the normal arrest operations.

“Under the Removal Order, they have to be deported,” he said.

In this case, because they are wanted people and there are warrants for their arrest in China the wanted individuals have to return to China and answer to the allegations against them.

On the subject of issuing of passports under the citizenship program, he noted the Prime Minister stated in Parliament that the Act had been amended to include police in the screening process of the citizenship program.

Napuat stressed they are not selling passports but the Citizenship Office grants citizenship, and citizens are entitled to passports.

“The Citizenship Office is under the Prime Minister’s Office, once approved to become a citizen and signed by the Head of State, then they are entitled to passports.”

Minister Napuat said at this stage, Vanuatu still lacks a good database to access information about foreigners entering the country but after his recent visit to Fiji with Immigration Director Jeffery Markson, the government will seek help from development partners to equip Vanuatu officials with a special monitoring system.

He said that before someone enters the Vanuatu shores, the country needs to have every detail about them and clearance with their country and INTERPOL.

The minister said in cases like the recent one, the Government must decide quickly on what to do.

“If the Government wants to stop the program, that is its decision. We do not control it. The regulation of the Development Support Program and Citizenship is under the Prime Minister’s Office.”

He confirmed the Vanuatu government is now working with INTERPOL worldwide and he applauded this, because the connection to the outside world needs to be strengthened to beware of any criminal who plans to enter the country in the future.

Minister Napuat is asking cooperation from all entities, government and private to work together to get rid of every illegal immigrant or wanted persons in Vanuatu.

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