A Sydney-based New Zealand Maori undertaker has thrown the Cook Islands into turmoil amidst claims he is trying to stage a coup backed by shadowy Americans promising billions of dollars.
Eight of the traditional chiefs of the 15-strong House of Ariki claim they are taking over from the government and will now run the country.
Rarotonga's paramount chief, Pa Tepaeru Ariki, told Fairfax Media today that the action has been organised by Bruce Ruatapu Mita, originally of Rotorua but more recently living in Sydney.
He claims that chiefs are the rightful owners of manganese nodules scattered across the Cook's South Pacific exclusive economic zone.
"He is saying he has some rich people in America, four or five of them, big time traders, and they want to put money into nodules.... It's into the billions."
She says Mita has "hijacked" the House of Ariki, a constitutional body that advises the democratically elected government on land and custom issues.
Now she wants the House of Ariki abolished.
"It is big trouble. It's treason, that is what is happening. They have broken the law, it is illegal what they have done. Why let this guy ruin them?"
Mita is still in Rarotonga but could not be contacted today.
Prime Minister Jim Marurai said the take-over move has no credibility and their claim was "ill-founded and nonsensical".
Cook Islands, population 21,900, is a self-government state in free association with New Zealand.
- Fairfax Media