Tongans in New Zealand who put thousands of dollars into pyramid scheme, Tongi Tupe Nuusila, have been left without cash for food or rent as the country is plunged into lockdown.
Those recruited into the scheme are told if they put in anything from $2,500 - $10,000, after three weeks they can turn up to collect big money every Saturday, turning over profits of thousands of dollars.
One victim told 1 NEWS he put in $5000 that he got from his children’s educational savings but no money was forthcoming on the due date despite the promises.
“I am very upset I feel betrayed,” he said.
Tongi Tupe Nuusila is headed by Ofa Siasau who runs it from her Otara-based Alfa Shipping company, of which she is a director.
Tens of thousands of dollars in cash have been collected and given out from the premises in just one day. “Gifting” is also being promoted in Facebook lives by her associate Tomasi Ofanoa in a bid to attract new customers.
However there have been no payments made in the last fortnight.
Siasau refused to answer questions from 1 NEWS about the scheme and whether she was paying tax, whether she regretted running an illegal pyramid scheme and how much she owed people.
In a phone interview, Ofanoa denied having anything to do with the scheme despite posting videos where he encourages people to come down and get some money.
The pyramid scheme was founded in the US, with claims more than $11 million is now owed to victims there, in Australia and New Zealand.
But Tongi Tupe Nuusila is just the tip of the iceberg with its self-styled CEO, Tilila Siola’a Walker Sumchai, based in the US.
She promotes Tongi Tupe on her Facebook platform, PTOA Global Movement for the Poor, featuring herself handling large amounts of money and verbally attacking anyone who criticises her money-making scheme.
The use of “PTOA” as part of her platform has angered the PTOA party, a political movement founded by the late Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva.
Its New Zealand branch has come out swinging, accusing Sumchai of hijacking the name and forming a breakaway group to promote her personal money-making agenda,
Michelle Halapio Pome’e says the deliberate use of PTOA to promote Tongi Tupe is confusing victims, who sign up thinking it’s part of the political movement when it’s not.
“It is quite upsetting for us we don’t promote unlawful activities in Tonga, here or anywhere for that matter,” she said.
A public meeting was held in June by pyramid scheme victim, Tionly Fatukala, who hoped to raise awareness in the community.
However, the meeting was disrupted by Siasau and Ofana, who brought along supporters to shut it down.
Fatukala lost $20,000 in another scheme, now she’s determined to bring all pyramid scheme leaders to justice while helping victims complain to the Commerce Commission.
“I was proud to be Tongan, but at the moment I’m so ashamed that these Tongans have taken advantage of us Tongans,” she said.
The Commerce Commission is investigating the New Zealand branch and 1 NEWS understands Tongan victims in the US have complained to authorities about Sumchai.