Suspect in Tongan visa scam on move again

By Imran Ali

An alleged fraudster behind a visa scam targeting Tongan nationals has managed to give police the slip while hiding in Kaitaia.

Kolini Vaka, also known as Kolini Tatafu, is wanted by Otahuhu police in connection to money collected from Tongan overstayers, mostly in South Auckland and Hawkes Bay, in return for residency visas. Vaka allegedly told people she worked at Immigration NZ.

Police say she constantly moves around to avoid arrest after Tongan radio and newspapers in Auckland began running articles about the scam and her involvement.

Immigration NZ issued a warning in June about fraudsters selling fake visas to Tongan overstayers for $290.

Nalesoni Tupou, an Otahuhu lawyer who represents some Tongans who've been duped, said Vaka stayed in Kaitaia for two to three weeks and may have targeted some people there. "They [overstayers] don't show their face so we don't know who they are but there are Tongans up there, particularly in Dargaville and Kerikeri, who do seasonal work.

"Someone has given her a room in Kaitaia to move in after she ran from Auckland," Mr Tupou said.

He said Vaka was also allegedly involved in a scam in 2001 where money was collected from elderly Cook Islanders with promises of buying them retirement homes.

Officer in charge of police investigations, Ross Ellwood, said although Vaka was in Kaitaia, he had not received any complaints against her from Northland people.

Spokesman for the Tongan community in Northland, Reverend Epeli Taungapeau, said he had not heard of anyone being scammed by Vaka but did not rule out the possibility that it may have happened: "The Tongan community is very small here and I am sure they are not dumb to follow into the lead of those she conned who seem very desperate to stay."

He said the fact that she cheated compatriots was a betrayal of trust that tarnished the reputation of the entire Tongan community. There are fewer than 200 Tongans in Northland.

- Northern Advocate

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