10 June 2005

Could Rotuma Become Another Transnistria?

I've meant for several days to post an excerpt from a fascinating study by the omniscient Head Heeb about potential secessionist gangsters on Rotuma.
On May 19, 2000, a group of indigenous Fijian nationalists, led by George Speight and supported by a number of influential chiefs, seized control of Parliament and held it for more than 50 days. On May 29, with Parliament still under siege, the military declared the government deposed and took over in opposition to both Speight and the elected legislature. During the next few months, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu were in a state of chaos, with attacks on Indo-Fijian tenant farmers and mutinies within the military. All this prompted renewed discussion of independence on Rotuma.

That's where the organized crime angle comes in. Present on Rotuma at the time, ostensibly as a "tourist," was Tzemach ben David Netzer Korem, the titular vice president of a micronation known as the Dominion of Melchizedek. The Dominion claims various Pacific and Antarctic territories and asserts a pseudobiblical basis for its sovereignty, but is in fact a complicated financial scam. Korem (whose real name is Ben Pedley, and who proudly notes that his high school class "voted him 'Most Original'") has used the apparatus of Melchizedek to conceal various securities and tax frauds, and has also made money from sales of licenses and travel documents.

However shady Korem may be, however, he has shown a considerable amount of skill in promoting Melchizedek's interests. Among other things, Melchizedek has actually managed to secure diplomatic recognition from the Central African Republic and Burkina Faso (aided, I suspect, by a certain amount of money under the table), giving it a patina of respectability and increasing the value of its travel documents. With the chaos surrounding the Fijian coup, however, Korem saw the chance to take Melchizedek to the next level. If Rotuma became a de facto sovereign state under a friendly government, it would become not so much a shell company as a shell nation in which Korem could establish banks, corporations and other financial entities beyond the reach of the law. A unilateral declaration of independence on Rotuma likely wouldn't be recognized, much as Somaliland's separation from the dysfunctional Somali state hasn't gained international recognition, but in some ways that would be even better for Korem - a Rotuma existing apart from international institutions would be a legal black hole like Transnistria is for the Russian mob.
There's more for those interested.

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