Vila Times

Bitcoins Under Palm Trees. How Citizenship Crooks Brought Vanuatu 15 Minutes of World Fame

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Read the full story in Vila Times issue 141 on Monday



Quite an unusual thing happened this week: Vanuatu hit the headlines in media all over the world, in several days drawing to itself more international attention than in the last at least couple years combined. The reason – new alleged statement of the Vanuatu Government, made in regard to its citizenship for investments program, DSP (Development Support Program), through the entity calling itself Vanuatu Information Centre, “officially appointed by the Government for marketing and administering [DSP program] internationally”.

It has been announced that “effective immediately, applicants to Vanuatu’s DSP Citizenship Program will have the opportunity to make payments in Bitcoin, through the Vanuatu Information Centre.”

And this news release has been instantly picked up by Ben Moshinsky, author of the reputable international online business magazine Business Insider, who started a chain of world wide publications, which included Bloomberg, Newsweek, Fortune Magazine, Financial Times (all have strict rules and requirements, prohibiting authors to publish unverified information), and many other media sources in Australia, Russia, Japan, Switzerland, Britain and other countries.

As a result, Vanuatu got its 15 minutes of world fame. Which would be a good story for Vanuatu, drawing more investment money to the Government of Vanuatu, reportedly being in desperate need of funds.

If it was true. Unfortunately, the announcement made by the Vanuatu Information Centre was just another false and misleading statement by this firm, pretending to represent the Government of Vanuatu overseas.



What is the Vanuatu Information Centre?



Vanuatu Information Centre calls itself “the agency charged with marketing and administering DSP program internationally, a global network of government approved centres for the promotion of Vanuatu’s Citizenship Development Support Program” (DSP), as well as Investment, Trade and Tourism.”

James Harris, the newly appointed Managing Director for VIC, who is based in Bangkok, Thailand (for some seemingly strange reason), during email conversation with Vila Times several weeks back has stated that “Vanuatu Information Centre is appointed by Government to represent DSP” and has “full Government support”.

However, the Government of Vanuatu has never heard about Vanuatu Information Centre and the fact that this entity now “officially administrates this program”.

Francois Batick, the Chairman of the Citizenship Commission, governmental body in fact responsible for the DSP administration, told us he has never heard about the Vanuatu Information Centre. Not only this agency hasn’t been appointed by the Government to officially represent its citizenship program in any way, it has also never applied for a license to operate under the DSP program, and thus doesn’t possess one.

“Vanuatu Information Centre (VIC) are basically crooks. This “firm” doesn’t have any “government authorised platform” (whatever it supposed to mean), and do not even have a license to operate as a designated agent. They pretend to be the governmental body or a firm directly connected to the government of Vanuatu to confuse its clients and other agencies, using the fact that Vanuatu government bodies are very slow to react on such violations, and incredibly inefficient”, told us one of the official designated agents under DSP.

VIC’s James Harris, though, continues to insist that VIC has an official status, apparently hoping that his Thailand location will allow him to avoid being responsible for lies.

“Vanuatu Information Centres is appointed by the Government to represent the DSP. However, the Centres have to be self-funding as the Government has no budget for setting up the necessary network internationally. It also has no money for funding Consulates. Therefore it is a mutually inclusive relationship. The VIC Network has to be self-funding – which is through appointing and working with DSP Agents,” Harris said answering the question on VIC status.

Long term goal of people standing behind the VIC scheme is unclear.

“VICN is just trying to get some clients this way. I’m not sure if they will really get them Vanuatu citizenship through real agents, or preparing all this scheme to take the money and run. To be fair, seems like the first option – I think they are just lying about their role and official status,” one of the largest DSP official agents told Vila Times.

“Another serious thing we need to mention – they are both pretending to be the Government of Vanuatu, and spreading the false information on prices under the DSP program – they say the price starts at $280,000, which is significantly higher than the real price. All that, as well as other things, makes rather serious allegations – they are basically international fraudsters and should be treated accordingly,” he added.



Vanuatu Information Centre – crooks, but genius crooks?


However, several actual designated agents under the DSP program in Port Vila have noted that despite the fact that “Bitcoin statement” was untrue, it has been quite a smart move from the marketing point of view. And the most effective to internationally market citizenship for investments in Vanuatu so far.

“Well, it is a false statement of course. As all the activity of this agency is. They are consistently misleading and deceptive, and generally can be – and should be – considered fraudsters. But we have to give them credit. They did a good job. They brought Vanuatu and its citizenship program international attention. They did better job marketing Vanuatu’s citizenship for investments program than all the other real and licensed agents,” DSP designated agent, who did not want to be named, told us.

“The idea with Bitcoins is brilliant. A bit delusory, you would think – because anyone who knows Vanuatu’s government would know these people barely can use computers, forget Bitcoins. But for international media it worked, and that makes it brilliant, hats off.”

By Abbott Priestley

Update 17.10.17: Vanuatu Citizenship Office’s official statement here – Vanuatu Citizenship Office: Bitcoins? What are those? Dollars please