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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

All in jest

King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV's royal decree

 

Ruling a medieval kingdom used to be serious business, what with all the warfare and beheadings and dying of the plague. Yet a staple of royal courts was the jester, an entertainer whose skills could include jokes, music, storytelling, juggling, acrobatics, or magic.

While jesters haven’t entertained the crowned heads of Europe for centuries, they aren’t entirely extinct. Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV, king of the Pacific island nation of Tonga from 1965 until his death in 2006, appointed a court jester on the 1st of April 1999.

His choice - who celebrated his 44th birthday on the very same day - was Jesse Bogdonoff, a Bank Of America employee who at one time also sold magnets to cure back pain. He had been Tonga's financial advisor for five years before making the transition to jesting. As jester, he wisely recommended moving the national stock portfolio out of the stock market before the dot-com bubble burst, possibly while juggling.

 

The king and I: Jesse Bogdonoff with Tonga's late king, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV.

 

However, by 2001 the US$26 million he had moved from the Tonga Trust Fund into a series of speculative investments was all gone, and he fled the country in 2004.

The Tongan Trust Fund was set up with money received from Tonga's controversial passport sales started in 1982 which, according to this academic research paper, resulted in the sale of 8,450 passport at an average of US$11,000 for each passport, or a total US$92.95million. US$92.95 minus US$26 million - what happened to the other US$66 million?

Those 8,450 passports - equal to about 8% of Tonga's population - went to such notables as General Motors Vice President, Michael Nyland, and family to allow them to avoid massive inheritance taxes (Australian 1/1/99); Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his wife Imelda (on 8 June 1986) and their daughter Aimée on 8 June 1987 (Tonga Government Gazette Extraordinary 15/2/91); the subsequently imprisoned former head of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, billionaire Ronald Li Fook-Shiu; Hong Kong textiles billionaire Chen Din-hwa; former chairman of the Diamond Importers' Association of Hong Kong, Maximilian Ma Yung-Kit; George Tan Soon-Gin, who handed over his Tongan passport to Hong Kong police after his Carrian group of shell companies (most in tax havens) was discovered to have fabricated hundreds of millions of dollars of profits -- precipitating the colony's financial crisis of 1982 and 1983 (Asian Wall Street Journal, 30/9/96; Naylor 1994: 209-24); Zhu Hua Yu, a Chinese millionaire who acquired a Tongan passport and moved to Nuku’alofa and lost over NZ$46m ($30.7m) at Auckland’s Sky City Casino and in November 1998 was convicted of cheating in its ‘high rollers’ area to finance his gambling addiction (New Zealand Herald 31/3/99).

 

 

There has been a decades-long inquiry into those passport sales but nothing seems to come of it - click here and here and here. Not for nothing was Tonga named the sixth most corrupt country in the world by Forbes magazine in 2008. That's some record for a tiny nation.

As for Jesse the jester, he now calls himself Jesse Dean, BA, MBA, PhD(c), ABH Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, Certified NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer, TimeLine Therapist Practitioner and Trainer, and founded the Open Window Institute of Emotional Freedom and Prosperity which provides unique personal development and communication-enhancing seminars to corporate clients seeking to increase executive and team performance. As one does after having been a royal jester! ☺

Compared to this, what's happening in Tongan real estate is almost a sideshow of a sideshow.


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