Tonga's king tricked by Korean sea water to natural gas scam
Tonga's King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV should read Greek history, particularly the story of Midas, the mythical king whose touch turned things to gold.
Great trick but when even the food started turning to gold greed had turned his life into a disaster.
King Taufa'ahau thought he could turn Tongan sea-water into vast supplies of natural gas.
A Korean Christian cult told him so and last year his ministers, led by the hapless unelected Prime Minister Baron Vaea of Houma, signed a contract for this miracle.
By late November 1997 it was clear something was wrong. It was either a pure scam, launched by a weird group of Koreans, or it was something more sinister than that.
Baron Vaea had signed a document to set up a nuclear waste facility on an island in the Kingdom.
In defence of Tonga however, it has to be said they are not the only Pacific nation dealing with strange looking Koreans. A Korean, Haeng Yong Mo, aka "Mr Big", is promising to spend US$6 billion on building casinos and tourist resorts in the Marshall Islands.
Korea and Taiwan have been major players in a proposal to use an atoll in the Marshalls for low-level nuclear waste storage.
The Koreans who hit Tonga enjoyed a variety of organisational names including the "Korean Unification Preparatory Council Inc", "The World Peace Prize Awarding Council" and the "World Peace Corps Academy" and the "Korean Jersusalem Project Council".
In essense they were all the same thing; a small Korean Christian cult.
Central to the Tongan story is "Reverend Doctor" Han Min Su.
July 4, 1996, marked the King's 78th birthday and among those showing up was Han and "Doctor" Park Jun Ku. Although completely unknown in this part of the world, they had immediate access to the King because they awarded him the "World Peace Prize-Harvestor's Prize" because the Koreans had discovered Tonga was, in their tortured English, "a crime free nation with the least of environmental pollutions on the God-created natures".
Han told PIM the award had previously been given to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and former Israeli Prime Minister Simon Peres. But it is bogus, it does not exist in any of the key reference works and it is astonishing the king's advisers, including Baron Vaea, could let such people near their king.
It gets worse.
The Koreans then told the king about this extraordinary invention by one Kim Myung Rae, a device that could turn seawater into natural gas.
The king told a Tahiti newspaper that the Korean chemist had discovered that the elements of natural gas could be found in sea water.
"With five gallons of sea water from Tonga, they were able to obtain the equivalent of a gallon of gas. The main interest is that sea water from the South Pacific is relatively pure, without any chemical pollution. If we could produce gas from sea water this resource would be virtually unlimited.''
The king said the technology could be extended to nuclear wastes.
"The location of the kingdom is ideal for technical research on a final methodology of nuclear waste disposal without bringing any of the hazardous material into the country," he said.
Han said they were giving this world first miracle technology to Tonga because they had no faith in the Korean economy.
Baron Vaea signed giving the Koreans "a good size of Island" where a "Sea Water Gas Production Pilot Plant" could be built.
Another man, Dr Park Jun Sang, president of the Korea Sea Water Production Company, would put up US$1.2 million. Tonga would hold 45 percent of the shares in the new venture, Park Jun Sang would hold 45 percent and the balance would be held by Han.
Then comes Article Four.
"Parties agree to establish, as an extensive business project, the Nuclear Waste Complete Burning Technology Research & Experimentation Centre in the Kingdom of Tonga upon the Sea Water Gas Pilot Plant commencing its operation with the funds invested or borrowed on the terms and conditions mutually agreed. However it is subject to the approval of Tonga government and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) prior to its initiation."
This was signed just one month before Tongan Foreign Minister Crown Prince Tupouto'a flew to Fiji to reluctantly sign the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. He did not tell anybody then that his father had approved a nuclear waste facility in the Kingdom.
Baron Vaea went off to Korea, carrying a bottle of Tongan sea water, which was fed into a machine and out the other end came natural gas.
Later in the year the Koreans returned in the guise of the "South Pacific Peace Crusade". They were given a parade, dancing and feasting and then one morning they gathered with people claiming to be representatives of the Israel, Mongolian and Malaysian governments to dedicate the sea water plant. Government spokeswoman Eseta Fusitu'a was the mistress of ceremonies and warmly endorse the plant.
Then the King has handed what he was told was the "tiny converter" that, Midas like, would bring Tonga wealth. The government owned Tonga Chronicle captured the history for its front page.
The king used the words of Saint Paul to justify Tonga's lucky first status in the new technology: "many are called but few are chosen". He seemed particularly pleased the Samoans had not got the miracle.
Han proclaimed that Tongans were descended from Mongolians and in honour of this Baron Vaea had been appointed president of the "Mongolian World Peace Corps".
He said the king had a personal involvement in the scheme and sent "a religious man" to Korea to negotiate the deals.
Unfortunately nobody seemed to keep Baron Vaea in the loop.
By October 1997 he told the Canberra based Pacific Report that the Koreans had asked for land and housing which Tonga had agreed to.
"So they came, they came with 60 people from Korea including religious ministers and adherents to some Christian churches in Korea; they came like a crusade, preaching, they came for a week, visited places all over the country and then they went back. That was the end of it," Baron Vaea said.
"We had the place, we had the land, we had it all prepared, we had a ground breaking ceremony and with the engineers we drew up measurements of the houses and materials required, and then they left and no engineer came."
Baron Vaea's interview was soon on front pages in Seoul where the South Korean foreign ministry ordered a probe in what happened and asked their mission in New Zealand has been ordered to look into reports that the group had "humiliated" the king.
Soon after the Koreans were ordered to visit the Seoul office of Agence France-Presse to explain what they were about. Chung Chong-Bae, a director of the self-styled "Korean Unification Preparatory Council Inc," said they had been questioned by the foreign ministry, national intelligence agents and the police.
Han produced the contract which disclosed the nuclear facility which, he said, was "an entirely separate business item".
It would focus on looking at ways of neutralising the unspent parts of nuclear fuel rods.
"It does not mean we will bring them actually into Tonga.... We will not bring anything into Tonga."
He said reference to the nuclear side of the deal should be dropped from any debate on the Koreans.
"For the sake of peace of this matter you must drop this nuclear waste issue.... We are not trying to bring any left over waste into Tonga."
Tongan Government officials have declined to comment on what really did happen.
It is not clear who lost what in this strange story -- but what is frightening is the ease with which Tonga's royal appointed government can sign up to something which, if it was French or American, were spark outrage.
But if it is a Tongan nuclear waste facility, it is supposed to be okay.