8/01/2003 2:19pm, #1
Shadowy Kiwi loses job after passport row
By EUGENE BINGHAM
A row over illegally sold passports has seen a New Zealand man of mystery lose his job amid allegation and counter-allegation in the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru. The once phosphate-rich country has closed its new Chinese embassy, headed by former New Zealand Labour Party candidate Jack Sanders, after evidence was sent to the Government about diplomatic passports being sold in Beijing. Washington's Nauru embassy, headed by a close associate of Sanders, Steven Ray, has also closed. Documents sent to the President of Nauru, Ludwig Scotty, allege staff at the Beijing embassy and Southern Cross Consultants, a Beijing firm that offers immigration and business services for Chinese interested in New Zealand and Australia, have been involved in selling counterfeit diplomatic passports for $50,000.
Martial arts expert Sanders has made a habit of being photographed with influential figures from Prime Minister Helen Clark to former US President Bill Clinton.
He was the subject of Weekend Herald investigations this year after he was linked in Australian media reports to a plot to smuggle North Korean defectors to the west. He denied being involved in the plot and also rejected claims he was a CIA operative. When the embassy opened in China in March, Sanders was appointed charge d'affaires, the senior post in the mission. Scotty announced the closures late last month, citing economic constraints and staff "not serving their intended purpose". But the Weekend Herald has learned of the intense battle and allegations over dubious passport sales flying between Sanders' faction and another group of foreigners linked with TransPacific Development Corporation, a firm contracted to sell Nauru passports through a controversial programme condemned internationally.
Sanders refused to comment this week, but the allegations against him were strongly denied by Ray. "I attest that at no time have myself or [Sanders] sold, created, printed, transferred, traded or conducted any business for profit or services in connection with passports, visas or other Nauru travel documents," said Ray. He claimed the documents forwarded to Scotty were forgeries.
Sanders, also known as James Stubbs, and Ray have made counter-allegations against TransPacific, accusing it of allowing Nauru passports to fall into terrorists' hands. A Washington lawyer linked with TransPacific and the Nauru government, Philip Gagner, says there has never been any evidence of terrorists obtaining Nauru passports. In a strange twist, Nauru's Minister for Justice, Russell Kun, has appointed Ray and Sanders "special investigators" to probe TransPacific's activities. In an interview with the Weekend Herald this week, Kun said he realised it might seem odd for him to have made the move when Sanders and Ray were themselves the subject of allegations and have had their diplomatic missions closed by Scotty. "That's within the powers of the president and I respect that," said Kun. "But [Sanders and Ray] are my only sources that I know that can help me out with this investigation. "I just want to get to the bottom of all this rubbish going on at the moment and clear Nauru's name."
Asked about the allegations against Sanders and Ray, Kun said he had asked them to explain. Revealing splits within the Nauru Government over the handling of the allegations, Kun said: "I won't be surprised if I get sacked. I think I may be stepping on a lot of heads." In documents obtained by the Weekend Herald, the Nauru Government has asked TransPacific to account for about US$1.2 million believed to be owed to the country from the sale of passports.