American cult embarrasses Niue government

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Niue is being urged by New Zealand to remove an American cult from the tiny Pacific island.

The country's Immigration and Finance Minister Fisa Pihigia says the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and New Zealand Aid has ticked-off the island's administration for allowing a "messy situation" to run on and on, but he has been unable to move the cult.

Two small families, said to belong to the Maha Devi Ascension Group, arrived on the island more than a year ago, saying they wanted to buy the Matavai Resort.

They later changed their plans and said they wanted to build several top quality health spas, but the resort continued to allow the families to stay in its best rooms, even though there was no sign of them paying any money.

The cult was previously in Samoa.

It is reported adherents seek to be sustained by "light energy" alone, rather than food and drink.

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Mr Pihigia told Auckland's Niu FM radio station that in addition to the management of the Matavai Resort, some of his fellow politicians and key leaders had also supported the group.

He said the $NZ2.4 million Matavai – part-owned by the Government – was built with the help of New Zealand funds and that he found it embarrassing to talk money with Wellington with the unresolved American saga.

Radio New Zealand International reported the group's members refused to speak with the media, but they had managed to obtain credit all over the island.

Niu FM reported in July that the Americans had run up a $400,000 bill in Niue, but some locals wanted them to stay, in the hope they'd bring US dollars into the cash-strapped economy.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters earlier this year said that New Zealand "on several occasions made its concerns about the group's bona fides known to the Niue Government".

Mr Peters said Niue was told about the group's past activities in Samoa and warnings were stepped up in late 2006 including via discussions with Premier Young Vivian.

Mr Pihigia previously told said that passports of members of the cult had been seized and they would not be able to leave without settling the debt.

NZPA