The list of agents authorised to sell Vanuatu citizenship is long. In all, 31 companies and individuals are listed as authorised agents for the Development Support Program, or DSP, on the Citizenship Office website. Another company, PRG, is responsible for the Vanuatu Contribution program, a separate operation.
Together, they accounted for over VT9 billion in government revenues in 2018. They kept another VT6 billion for themselves.
These include lawyers, former departmental directors and DGs, political advisors, family members of senior political figures—and even ex-Daily Post employees.
Last week, Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat program raised questions about how these agents were selected.
Former President Ati George Sokomanu was interviewed for the show, and told Pacific Beat, “We don’t know what we’re inviting. It’s one of the things that the government should look at very, very carefully.”
Vanuatu’s authorised agents are the first line of defence. But how are these agents selected? According to the Radio Australia report, two unsuccessful applicants “declined to speak publicly but expressed disbelief they were rejected while some others were approved.”
Both Radio Australia and the Daily Post tried to contact the Citizenship Office for comment, by email, by telephone and by visiting the Office itself. No response was received to any of these requests for comment about how agents are selected.
The Pacific Beat report mentions George Boar, who was “charged with misappropriation in 2017 over allegations he did not pass on money he’d won in court for a group of clients.
“Mr Boar said he had to supply the Citizenship’s Office and Commission with a police clearance, bank references and a medical certificate.”
After this article appeared in the newspaper, Mr Boar contacted the Daily Post, stating, "I have not sold a single citizenship."
He further clarified that Vanuatu Premium Coconut Oil was the agent. The company is owned by Mr Boar.
Timakata & Associate is another company listed as a DSP agent. The Daily Post has learned that the Citizenship Office was aware that director John Timakata was facing disciplinary proceedings at the time his application was under review.
Mr Timakata was suspended for three months by the Law Council Disciplinary Committee for misconduct. Yesterday, the Daily Post reported that Mr Timakata has been suspended a further 12 months for practising law while under suspension.
Lawyer Bill Bani gained notoriety for his association with ‘Lord’ Geoffrey Bond, a businessman operating largely in Southeast Asia who made headlines by offering to accept payment in BitCoin. Mr Bond is business associates with one of the central figures in OneCoin/OneLife, one of the largest online Ponzi schemes ever to operate. German authorities accused senior figures in that organisation of laundering about EUR 350 million through German banks. Police in India, China and the UK made numerous arrests relating to OneCoin, seizing tens of millions of dollars each.
Former Customs and Inland Revenue Director Benjamin Malas was suspended from the public service, and subsequently retired. He then became an authorised DSP agent. He told Pacific Beat, “Everybody went through the same scrutiny.
“Due diligence checks were done by government and licences were issued. I don’t have any special treatment.”
The Daily Post has learned that concerns were raised within government about potential conflicts of interest with former public servants and people with direct connections to senior political figures. A request was made to the Attorney General to provide an opinion, and this opinion was shared with the Citizenship Office while the applications were still pending.
Some of these applicants were determined to have a conflict of interest. Despite this finding, their applications were approved.
Pacific Beat report and the Daily Post are not alleging wrong-doing by any agent. But many respected figures in the community have suggested there are better ways to manage this program.
George Sokomanu told Pacific Beat he “is opposed to the sale of Vanuatu citizenship but said that if the government is going to continue with the policy it should conduct the sales itself rather than outsource the job to agents.
“I think that’s the right way of doing it if the government does want to be transparent,” Mr Sokomanu said.
Vanuatu Glory Limited, operated by Edmond Toka, has an exclusive marketing agreement with PRG ImmiMart, which operates the Vanuatu Contribution Program. This program existed before the DSP. PRG’s headquarters are in Hong Kong.
PRG reportedly declined to process at least one application that was later handled by a DSP agent, the spouse of a former politician. The same agent who agreed to process the application has also acted as the applicant’s local business associate.
Vanuatu authorities conduct annual criminal record checks on all successful applicants. A periodic review of this person’s records revealed they were being sought by Chinese police in relation to a bank fraud investigation. The person is the subject of an ongoing police investigation here in Vanuatu.
The six people recently deported without due process last month were all DSP applicants. Four of them were successful, and the applications of the other two were still pending when they were accused by Chinese authorities of forging their criminal record checks.
Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that George Boar has not processed any citizenship applications.