Still no clarity on casino issue as documents present conflicting evidence

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(L-R) Hon. Tevita Lavemaau, Hon. Poasi Tei and Prime Minister 'Akiisi Pohiva. Photo/Kalino Latu

Tongans are no closer to knowing whether their government has approved a casino, with the release of documents appearing to show that the government approved a gambling license for an American company in November last year and a government statement denying they had done any such thing.

The documents were provided to Kaniva News this morning Tuesday 4 after we ran a story in which we quoted Hon. Pohiva saying he would not allow a casino to be built.

If the documents supplied to Kaniva News are genuine they appear to show that the government has made a decision that would require the removal of Tonga’s strict gambling laws and allow a foreign company to build  casino in the kingdom.

But they also appear to show that the government backpedalled on the issue only two months later.

The casino story erupted over the weekend with church minister and former soldiers threatening to protest what they believed to be a decision to approve a casino in front of the official Tongan residence, ‘Atalanga in Auckland.

Last week Hon. Lavemaau told Tongan Radio and Television the government had not issued any license.

Translated:

“Some groups and businesses contacted the government to establish this type of industry to assist tourism and to attract people from overseas to come and spend their money in Tonga.

“I have just returned from Solomon. There were eight casinos in Solomon and I met with Samoa’s Minister of Custom and Revenues and after questioning him he said there are two casinos in Samoa. Only those who hold foreign passports can use the casinos”, Hon. Lavemaau told the Television in Tongan.

“So as I looked at it Samoa gets millions from these two ventures,

“So as I personally looked at it in my role as Minister of Finance of the nation I am happy to hear about these things and it is important for us to go and have a look and learn from it.

“And then we come back with what we have learnt, it is a good idea as it can open an opportunity for the rich people all over the world to visit our nation and assist our country’s economic development”.

The documents provided to Kaniva News appear to show that cabinet gave approval for the casino to Tavake Tamafua, part of the Red Warrior Entertainment Group.

A letter dated November 24 last year, apparently signed by Hon. Lavemaau and addressed to Dr Donald Pate, CEO of Red Warrior Entertainment, says:

“I refer to His Majesty’s cabinet decision No. 1104 made on the 4th November 2016 whereby the proposal from the Tavake Tamafua Tourism Investment Project was approved and given full support by the Government of Tonga.

I am pleased to inform you that the Government of Tonga will grant and guarantee an exclusivity right for a casino and gaming license to the Red Warrior Group LLC under the precondition that an appropriate infrastructure is being built in Tonga within the next two years.”

A registration document for Tavake Tamamafua Ltd supplied to Kaniva News shows it was incorporated as a company in Tonga on November 29, 2016, almost two weeks later. It is understood the chief shareholders and directors are Havea Luigi Gatti and Epeli Taione.

However, more than four months later, neither the company name nor the names of the directors appear on the Business Registries Office website.

Red Warrior Entertainment issued a statement on January 23 this year saying it has been granted the first gaming license in Tonga. It said the Minister for Customs had made an official proclamation about the license in a letter dated November 24 and that the license agreement was completed on January 9.

In response, the Tongan government issued a press release on January 25 denying it had issued an exclusive gaming license to Red Warrior Entertainment.

“In November 2016, the Cabinet received a proposal for a Tourism Facility and Investment to be known  as the Tavake Tamafua Tourism Investment Project (TTTIP) from a foreign company called the Amira-Unison-Gatti LLP,” the press release said.

“The complete investment included three main projects, a Pearl Airport Hotel and Shopping Mall, a Frangipani Luxevillas and Aria Tourism Entertainment Gaming Resort. On 4th November, 2016 Cabinet supported the TTTIP subject to facilitation of legal documents and relevant plans, and the conduct of appropriate due diligence.

After due consideration, the Cabinet on 11th November 2017 supported only the first two projects i.e the Pearl Airport Hotel and Shopping Mall and the Frangipani Luxevillas but NOT the Aria Tourism Entertainment Gaming Resort. The Cabinet further directed that the full plan for the Pearl Airport Hotel and Shopping Mall and the Frangipani Luxevillas are to be submitted for final consideration and approval.

“The Government wishes to inform the public that under the Laws of Tonga, specifically, the Criminal Offences Act 1926 in sections 82, 83 and 83A, gambling is prohibited. Therefore any intention from Red Warrior Entertainment or any Casino Company to apply for a gaming license would be futile.

“The Government also wishes to reassure the public, that the national interest is of utmost priority to the Government and any proposal that will be deemed to disrupt the peace and harmony of the society will be given careful scrutiny and consideration.”

CEO of the Ministry of Customs and Revenue and Immigration, Kulu ʻAnisi Bloomfield, told Kaniva News this evening Red Warrior Entertainment had applied for permission for a hotel, airport, shopping mall and casino.

He said the cabinet only approved the hotel and shopping mall “in principle.” Before they could be approved the developers had to provide a map of the projects in compliance with the building code. They were also required to deposit money required by the government for the project. When these were completed the government would consider the application.

“As far as I know the company has yet to complete any of these requirements,” Bloomfield said.

The main points

  • Tongans are no closer to knowing whether their government has approved a casino, with the release of documents appearing to show that the government approved a gambling license for an American company in November last year and a government statement denying they had done any such thing.
  • If the documents supplied to Kaniva News are genuine they appear to show that the government has made a decision that would require the removal of Tonga’s strict gambling laws and allow a foreign company to build casino in the kingdom.
  • But they also appear to show that the government backpedalled on the issue only two months later.
  • The casino story erupted over the weekend with church minister and former soldiers threatening to protest what they believed to be a decision to approve a casino in front of the official Tongan residence, ‘Atalanga in Auckland.

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Is the devil really coming to Tonga? Confusion reigns as pastors and soldiers prepare protest 

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