Wellington, June 18 NZPA - Police are investigating a self-styled Maori sovereignty group which is running a fake passport scam described by government ministers as disgusting and deplorable.
Pacific Island people have been caught in the racket, with families paying $500 for bogus documents purporting to show they have been "adopted" and are under the protection of the group.
They apparently believe the documents give them legal rights to stay in New Zealand, or at least carry some weight with immigration authorities, but the man behind the scam has admitted they are meaningless.
Gerard Otimi said about 50 families had each paid him $500 for the documents -- and in return he gave them $500 of "Maori barter currency" to cancel out the fee.
"The documents are to notarise them, and the Immigration Department, to say they are now under our care," he said on TV3's Campbell Live.
Otimi agreed it was "exactly right" that the documents had no status at all with the immigration authorities.
Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples told reporters the scam was "disgusting" and could harm Maori-Pacific Island relations.
Dr Sharples said the fake passports and visas carried a crown crest as well as the organisers' own flag and crest.
"I really, really feel for the Pacific Island people who have been duped in this way," he said.
Pacific Island Affairs Minister Georgina te Heuheu urged victims to go to the police.
"It's deplorable that anyone would do this to some of the most vulnerable people in our country," she said.
Otimi's group has been attracting hundreds of people to meetings in South Auckland and the police are on to them.
Inspector Karen Wilson said police in Countries-Manukau and the Waikato were scrambling to find out whether any laws had been broken.
"We're very much in the initial phase of gathering information before we can make any assessment on what, if any, offences may have been committed," she said.
It is understood the group offering the fake passports is linked to the Maori sovereignty group Ko Huiarau which was formed in the early 1800s when European settlement began.