13 May 2020

Pacific churches targeted by crypto scam

4:42 pm on 13 May 2020

A new government awareness campaign for investment scams is considering targeting Pasifika churches after the multi-billion-dollar OneCoin cryptocurrency - labelled a pyramid scheme - was pushed through two Samoan churches in Auckland.

Golden coin stacks, cryptocurrency.

Photo: 123RF

Authorities decided not to take action against OneCoin, but a Commerce Commission report finds it was pushed through the Samoan Independent Seventh Day Adventist Church (SISDAC) and the Samoa Worship Centre; most investors never saw any of their money again.

The report was published in December but was obtained by RNZ under the Official Information Act (OIA).

Today, the Financial Markets Authority and Commerce Commission launched a joint-campaign to will raise awareness of this type of scam in Pasifika communities, including advertisements run on Pacific language radio stations.

The authority's regulation director, Liam Mason, said the targeting of churches was also a particular concern.

"We can get our messages through into communities, and that could include trying to get that to church groups."

Mason said an inability to take action against schemes like OneCoin, because their operations were based overseas, "can be frustrating".

"Where they've recruited people in New Zealand communities, very often those people are taken in by the scam as well."

SISDAC and the Samoa Worship Centre are being investigated by the Department of Internal Affairs under the Charities Act 2005, and although the churches' involvement in OneCoin is not a direct focus of the investigations, it has been uncovered as part of them.

Both churches deny wrongdoing.

In a separate December memo, the Commerce Commission noted that it terminated its investigation into OneCoin because it was of resourcing constraints, the fact it may no longer be operating in New Zealand, and "concerns about the basis upon which initiating information was provided by the New Zealand Police."

Police led an initial probe into OneCoin last year, but have withheld their report into it in full under the OIA.

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