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A coup that wasn't: islanders fend off Net scam

Date: 25/07/2000

Suva: Representatives of a fictitious cyber nation have been banished from the isolated Fijian province of Rotuma after unsuccessfully inciting a secession movement and allegedly selling bogus stocks on the Internet.

A chief of the island admitted yesterday that his people had been duped by an American and New Zealand Internet scam selling fake stock certificates in a bid to gain some control over the island.

Ms Taraivini Costello and Mr Henry Gibson, agents for the Internet nation of the "Dominion of Melchizedek" (DOM), received about 80 signatures - some of them under duress - from Rotumans purportedly wanting to cede control of their island to the Internet dominion.

On behalf of Melchizedek's leader, convicted Californian fraudster David Korem, the pair also tried to sell stocks for non-existent Rotuman fishing and agricultural produce companies.

Rotuma, about 430 kilometres north of Suva, is home to 3,000 people. Another 5,000 Rotumans live throughout the Fiji islands.

The chairman of Rotuma Council of Chiefs, Visanti Makrava, said yesterday that Mr Gibson, a New Zealander and part Rotuman, and Ms Costello, an American of Rotuman descent, had been on the island for a few months and had left about a week ago. They left after the discovery of the bogus stock certificates and documents proposing a new Cabinet, answerable to Melchizedek.

"We are part and parcel of Fiji and that remains right through from 1871 until now and I'm sure this relationship will continue," Mr Makrava said. "These two agents ... will not be allowed to enter Rotuma again. That is the decision of the Council of Chiefs of Rotuma."

Fijian police would interview those who signed the petition, and the Council of Chiefs would take legal action against Ms Costello and Mr Gibson.

Mr Makrava said Mr Gibson had a long association with Rotuma after travelling there ostensibly to teach martial arts. He had tried to entice his students to join a secession movement.

Mr Makrava said he was "determined to protect Rotumans from fraud and cult leaders".

"Several of the signatures were either forged or signed under duress," he said.

The US State Department has warned that the DOM is "fraudulent in intent and practice". It is linked to a range of other cyber nations including the "Knights of Malta", which has caused trouble in Papua New Guinea, and "the Kingdom of Enio Kio", which has a claim over part of the Marshall Islands.

Paul Daley

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