By Dan McGarry in Port Vila
The Chinese Embassy has for a second time failed to respond to a request for comment concerning its role in the arrest, detention and planned deportation of six Chinese nationals on Vanuatu soil.
The Vanuatu Daily Post originally contacted the embassy by telephone last week, but were instructed to send a written request for comment instead. The newspaper complied.
Another request was sent yesterday shortly before lunch. No reply had been received by the time the article went to press.
The presence of Chinese law enforcement officials on Vanuatu soil, their official status, and their role in the arrest and detention of the six arrested people has raised numerous questions about due process and the rule of law.
The Office of the Prime Minister, which oversees the Citizenship Office, shared further information yesterday concerning the six Chinese nationals currently in detention, pending their expected deportation.
Four of the six individuals had applied for Vanuatu citizenship under the Development Support Programme (DSP). They had their citizenship granted in mid-May this year. Two others were not citizens.
The four citizenship applications approvals were made on the same day in mid-May, a PMO spokesman said.
Standard security check
At that time, they had been subjected to the standard security and background check, which included a query against the Interpol database. Vanuatu joined Interpol in November last year.
In late June this year, Chinese authorities informed the government of Vanuatu that six individuals were involved in what they characterised as a “pyramid” scheme, aimed at victims in China.
These activities were allegedly based in a commercial property in the Seaside neighbourhood.
The Daily Post was shown a letter, evidently from Chinese police, stamped and dated from June 2019, which alleged that a Chen Bo had forged his criminal record check form. Commonly called a police clearance, it is a required document for any residence or citizenship application.
The letter described Chen as a fugitive from the law.
The Daily Post asked if all of the six were the subject of similar correspondence. The PMO spokesman said yes, they were.
The identities of the other five detainees are not known.
Woman in hiding
A woman named Liana Chen is also reportedly wanted by Chinese authorities. The Daily Post has been told that she was currently in hiding in Vanuatu.
Sources informed the Daily Post that six Chinese law enforcement officials were later joined by five more. These individuals have been occupying the same property as the detainees, but it is not clear what their role in regarding the six people.
It is known that Vanuatu Police are providing a security detail to ensure the six remain on the premises.
Sources with direct knowledge of their circumstances told the Daily Post that the six were or are being held on a property owned by the China Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC), in the Prima neighbourhood.
The Daily Post contacted CCECC to ask about their collaboration on this matter, but did not receive a reply by the time the article went to press.
The PMO also clarified that the DSP was mandated to supply up to 600 citizens via its investment opportunity. The total cash value of this offering would be VT 10.74 billion (US$93 million). That number has yet to be reached.
A Parliamentary Committee was recently informed that over 4000 applications have been approved. Therefore, PRG ImmiMart Ltd, which operates the rival Vanuatu Contribution Programme, is responsible for more than 3600 citizenship approvals so far.
PMO officials stressed that PRG had not processed the six applications currently under scrutiny.
The Daily Post was unable to discover any local legal professionals working to represent or defend the detainees.
Internal Affairs Minister Andrew Napuat earlier told the newspaper that these people would not be going to court in Vanuatu, as they were not accused of committing any crime in Vanuatu.
But the question of their right to appeal their extradition remains unanswered.
Also, Vanuatu authorities are empowered to summarily remove a person’s passport under certain circumstances, but a person’s right to appeal the loss of citizenship remains.
- NOTE: After this article appeared in the Vanuatu Daily Post, A PMO spokesman told the newspaper that in fact only four of the six Chinese nationals arrested had applied for citizenship. The newspaper originally reported that all six had applied, but that only four had been granted citizenship, with two applications still pending. This article has been updated to reflect the clarification.
- The Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report has a content sharing arrangement with the Vanuatu Daily Post.
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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz