Otago Daily Times

Samoan church no longer charity

Investigat­ion report findings


AUCKLAND: A Samoan church in Auckland has been struck off the Charities Register after its employees stole millions of dollars in church funds, and poured millions more into dubious investment­s.

It follows a twoyear probe into the Samoan Seventh Day Adventist Church (SISDAC) which operates 10 churches in the Auckland region.

An investigat­ion report by Charities Services published yesterday reveals a web of financial mismanagem­ent and corruption in which vast sums of money sourced from the church's membership were funnelled into the pockets of church officials, many of whom were family relatives.

The church, whose services are held in Samoan, preyed almost exclusivel­y on Auckland's Samoan population.

SISDAC was first referred to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO)

Elizabeth Papu misappropr­iated a further $766,895 that was not uncovered by the Serious Fraud Office probe. (Her father, Pastor Willie Papu, contends that this income came from legitimate sources).

Another former treasurer, Joseph Stowers, took $498,997 in church funds as undeclared income in 2017. Pastor Willie Papu Junior banked more than $316,000 from the church and its World Committee account. (He claims they supported the church or were

by Charities Services following a 2013 investigat­ion into the church.

The SFO probe led to the 2017 sentencing of former treasurer Elizabeth Papu to two years and nine months in prison for stealing more than $1.6 million from the church, and using the funds at a casino. That year, Charities Services opened a fresh investigat­ion to determine whether the personal income that he paid tax on). Pastor Willie Papu engaged in ‘‘serious wrongdoing’’ by taking $84,031 in church funds for him and his family, and influencin­g the Samoan Seventh Day Adventist Church (SISDAC) to pay a further $63,309 of his expenses. (He submits that he never took the money for his personal benefit).

Pastor Willie Papu, who remains as an executive director of SISDAC’s World Committee, is named as a key influence on the church’s offending.

church knew offending.

The report found pastor Willie Papu spearheade­d large investment­s including nearly $1 million into the cryptocurr­ency OneCoin, and $1.7 million into WFE Capital. The Financial Markets Authority warns that both may be scams.

Sina Hunt, a New Zealand woman who was central to estab


Papu's lishing OneCoin's presence in the country, took more than $200,000 in SISDAC's funds for her personal benefit, as well as arranging investment­s into ‘‘Health Coffee’’ and ‘‘Organo Gold’’, the report found.

‘‘The entity [SISDAC] lost all of the funds it invested in each scheme,’’ it said.

A 2019 investigat­ion by RNZ found Hunt had targeted several vulnerable Samoan families through SISDAC, and had convinced them to invest money they could not spare into OneCoin, which has been labelled a ponzi scheme by authoritie­s.

In some ways, church members are still paying for the failings of their leadership.

The report found Willie Papu had paid SISDAC $355,097 in reparation­s for the funds lost on the WFE Capital investment.

‘‘Most of this money has been gifted to Pastor Willie Papu by members of SISDAC's overseas churches.’’

This membership also donated about $500,000 directly to the church to help recuperate from the WFE Capital and OneCoin investment­s.

SISDAC was removed from the Charities Register on February 5, and cannot apply to be reregister­ed for another six months.

Willie Papu and former treasurer Joseph Stowers were also disqualifi­ed from being officers of charities for four years.

In the report, the Charities Registrati­on Board said it still had concerns about Willie Papu's influence over SISDAC's investment decisions.

In its submission­s, the church denied this. Papu put it differentl­y: ‘‘I know that Charities Services would love to kill my influence. But influence is not something you can kill. It is a legacy, built upon a lifetime of service and compassion.’’ — RNZ

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