From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

PART I

http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/2006/11/lonely-planet-guide-to-micronations.html

BLDGBLOG: Have you ever declared your own micronation?

Sellars: Yes. I grew up in the suburb of Bentleigh, in Melbourne,
Australia. It was an exceedingly boring place, like a retirement
village – it seemed like I was the only teenager around at times. So
I founded the Independent Republic of Bentleigh, declared myself
President, and claimed the whole of Bentleigh as territory. Our
national anthem was “We Can’t Be Beaten,” a song by the toughest band
in the land, Rose Tattoo.

BLDGBLOG: What happened to it?

Sellars: We were beaten – the IRB was invaded by Poland. The Polish
kid next door already hated me, but when he saw me poncing up and down
the back yard draped in my IRB flag, he was enraged even more than
usual. He jumped over the fence, punched me in the mouth and stole my
lunch money – and that was all the IRB’s assets gone, just like that.
He also stepped on my toy tanks and melted my plastic soldiers with a
cigarette lighter, which meant the IRB had no defence force, and that
was the end of it, really. My mother banned me from starting up a
micronation ever again, unless I could back it up with sufficient
armoury and investment capital, which of course I never could, being a
very lazy kid.

BLDGBLOG: Are you still plotting revenge…?

Sellars: No, no – it’s fine. He was stronger, smarter, more committed
and far more organised than me. It’s a good lesson for any start-up
nation: you will be at the mercy of predators, so you’d best bulk up.

BLDGBLOG: Returning to the book, I’m curious if you found the travel
guide format a bit limiting. Was there more to say beyond climate,
history, population, and so on; or was the format actually a liberating
way to organize your research?

Sellars: It was liberating. You could write a heavy political treatise
on the significance of micronations, but who would read it? Lonely
Planet certainly wouldn’t publish it. Our mantra was always to focus on
places that travellers could actually visit – that is, micronations
with actual land, rather than cybernations, or micronations on the moon
– so the guidebook format seemed ideal. These places set themselves
up as real countries, for the most part, and a good proportion of them
take their statehood very seriously, so it was an interesting exercise
to outline their “visa requirements” and their laws and regulations as
a way of testing the validity of their claims.

Take the Empire of Atlantium: it’s described in the book as a “secular
humanist utopia” that advocates a single world government, abortion
rights and legalized euthanasia. By according the Empire the same
weight (and the same text headings) as, say, the Netherlands in Lonely
Planet’s Western Europe guidebook, we can determine whether it really
is, as Atlantium’s Emperor Georgius claims, “a unique type of
transitional progressive political and social group entity that
maintains the forms and structures of a sovereign state as a means of
giving concrete form to its general ideology, and as a way of wrapping
up a diverse range of messages in a form that is easily understood and
digested.”

So, does it have population of more than one? Yes. A currency? Yes. A
citizenship program? Yes. A constitution? Yes. A postal agency? Yes. A
flag? Yes. A pompous official portrait of the head of state? Yes. Has
it been at war? Yes. Can you visit it? Yes. Does it have an eclectic
socially tolerant agenda? Yes. Then it certainly does “maintain the
forms and structures of a sovereign state in order to present a diverse
range of messages” – much like the Netherlands, for that matter.

We just aimed for the facts, and figured the rest would follow –
we’ll leave the grey areas for Wikipedia’s sandbox.

BLDGBLOG: It seems many of the kings, queens, prime ministers, etc.,
featured in the book are actually teenage boys, or eccentric older men,
many of whom have goatees.

Sellars: Yes. It does appear to be an especially male enterprise,
starting up your own micronation. It’s like piecing together a model
train set, I think – that common little-boy fantasy of building,
managing and controlling every single aspect of a miniature world. But
then again, little girls have dollhouses and tea sets, and that’s a
virtual world as well, with its own rules for social interaction.

BLDGBLOG: John’s introduction suggests that many of these micronations
have been run as “enormous, time-consuming, intricate jokes.” However,
I’m curious what the book might have been like if you had included the
“separatist cults,” white supremacists, and “lunatic fringe” that you
chose to exclude. Did you ever want to write-up these other, less
humorous micronations – multinational private security firms,
corporate tax havens, seaborne pirate states off Somalia – or would
that have made the book too political?

Sellars: Ah yes, the good old lunatic fringe. Quite often these types
of micronations are not very well documented, and – at least the ones
we came across – were riddled with incoherent policy and ill-thought
out constitutions, with zero recognition from either the real world or
the micronational world. I’m guessing that if a white-supremacist
micronation came along that was intelligently modelled – and I’m
talking geographically, of course – and that had interactions with
other micronations, even if it was to invade them – plus some kind of
tangible effect in the real world, such as being invaded by a real
nation – then we might consider including it. It’s not enough to
declare yourself a nation – you have to interact in some way,
preferably for the benefit of others, or at least in a libertarian
manner.

As it is, the micronations we’ve included have had some kind of
independently verified interaction with a third party. Prime examples
include Sealand, which was engaged in a diplomatic crisis with Germany
after surviving an attempted coup, which successfully fended off the
UK’s claims on its territory, and which now has national mini-golf,
football and slot-car teams that compete in international competition;
the Republic of Molossia, which is a world leader in micronational
affairs, having inaugurated the Intermicronational Olympic Movement and
hosted the first Intermicronational Olympic Games; and the Hutt River
Province, which seceded from Australia after a dispute over wheat
quotas, and now exports wildflowers, agricultural produce, stamps and
coins, and continues to have low levels of interaction with the
Australian government.

In the end, the mock-guidebook format sealed the selection criteria. On
one level you could argue that the Waco compound was a micronation,
although as far as I can tell they didn’t print stamps, or formally
elect a head of state, or draw up a constitution. I’m certainly
interested in exploring the parameters outlined in your question, but
that would have required a very different methodology. Edwin Strauss
has covered it to some extent, in his book How to Start Your Own
Country, which takes a pre-9/11 approach to micronationalism, including
advocating the deployment of “basement nukes” to get your own way.

The bottom line is that this is a dangerous area for a travel publisher
to get into – and we are not white supremacists, cultists, or
terrorists, so it would be a particularly bitter pill to swallow just
for the sake of being inclusive.

BLDGBLOG: What kind of future do you see for the micronational model?
Tourist gag or the next phase of political sovereignty?

Sellars: Surely gated suburbs, housing only the filthy rich, are the
future of micronationalism. Gated communities have their own security
forces, their own infrastructure… it must be only a matter of time
before the most powerful and self-contained of them secede. Going by
this model, Johannesburg – by all accounts – will be composed of
nothing but micronations.

The Lonely Planet Guide to Micronations was written by John Ryan,
George Dunford, and Simon Sellars.

PART II

http://www.nypost.com/seven/11272006/business/nation_of_flimflam_business_christopher_byron.htm

NATION OF FLIMFLAM
by CHRISTOPHER BYRON

THESE ARE BOOM TIMES FOR OFFSHORE CORPORATE SHELLS

November 27, 2006 — EVER hear of a country called the dominion of
Melchizedek? It’s said to include much of Antarctica, most of the
western Pacific and all of the Middle East.

Nonetheless, we’re not talking about an emerging superpower.
Melchizedek never sent troops to Kosovo and it doesn’t have a seat in
the U.N.

But in that and several other respects, Melchizedek is no different
from dozens of other self-hyping “micro-nations” that have been tying
America in knots as it tries to crack down on the use of offshore shell
companies for everything from smuggling and counterfeiting to the
financing of terrorist activities around the globe.

The Securities and Exchange Commission proclaimed Melchizedek a fraud
in 1999 when the regulatory agency accused a Brooklyn lawyer named
Victor Wilson of running a Ponzi scheme that bilked $1.2 million from
investors by way of a nonexistent bank that Wilson claimed had been
chartered by the dominion of Melchizedek.

But Melchizedekians are a hearty lot, and six years later they’re still
at it, trying to make the big leap from cyberspace into real life as a
bona fide sovereign nation, complete with a flag, a great seal and
plenty of opportunities to buy a bank license, if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, dozens of other micro-nations have wrapped themselves in
similar – if slightly more plausible – malarkey to trick themselves out
as offshore financial centers.

And business has been booming, as more and more Americans discover that
with U.S. law enforcement distracted by the war on terror, there is
almost no risk of being prosecuted for sneaking money out of the
country into tax-evading offshore bank accounts.

No reliable records are available regarding which offshore
micro-nations have been enjoying the fruits of this boom, but data from
the SEC regarding public company activity abroad gives a clue.

At the turn of the decade, just 63 U.S. public companies claimed the
recently independent pseudo-state of Montenegro as home; today, the
number is 248. Montenegro’s special appeal? The banking sector’s
unsurpassed talents for hiding the identities of its foreign clients.
Other micro-nations have experienced similar growth.

The situation has finally caught the eye of Congress. On Nov. 14, a
Senate subcommittee chaired by Michigan Democrat Carl Levin issued the
second in a series of reports on the out-of-control growth of these
secrecy-enshrouded shell corporations – not just overseas, but at home
in the U.S. as well.

According to the Levin committee, more than 1.9 million companies a
year are incorporated in America. To get in on the action, dozens of
U.S. states are competing to supplant Delaware as the new Switzerland
of America, dreaming up ways to make their incorporation processes
easier, quicker and cheaper, while offering broader and broader
guarantees of anonymity and secrecy to the incorporators.

For a fee of $1,100, you can now set up a corporation in Nevada, over
the Internet, in less than an hour, confident that your name will
appear on no public records.

In see-no-evil Colorado, which is spewing out 5,000 such incorporations
a month, the business climate is even friendlier – everything is
handled by computer, with no human oversight or review of any of the
information provided.

Bottom line: In a number of states, it’s now possible to establish
completely anonymous control of a fully legal corporation, usually for
a fee of about $100, with less hassle – and less background information
– than it takes to get a driver’s license or open a bank account.

Among other things, this makes a complete joke of the Bush
administration’s efforts to force other nations to adopt the Patriot
Act’s so-called Know Your Customer rule. Washington is attempting to do
this via the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering, a
33-nation organization set up in 1989 as part of the Organization For
Economic Cooperation and Development to push for effective laws to
counter money laundering worldwide.

One of the group’s keystone requirements: Countries should not allow
companies to be incorporated within their borders without knowing who
the individuals behind them actually are.

Thanks to the behavior of our states, and the seeming disinterest of
the Bush administration to do anything about it, FATF formally
sanctioned the U.S. on June 23 for being in breach of this most basic
of all anti-money laundering requirements. This pushes the mightiest
economic power on earth into the category of a micro-nation scofflaw,
with just two years to correct the problem before facing outright
expulsion from FATF itself.

But don’t hold your breath that this is going to get fixed. In the
half-decade since 9/11, the administration’s antiterrorism efforts have
spawned a colossal bureaucracy of 41 different federal departments,
bureaus, agencies, commissions, task forces and working groups, all of
which claim roles of one sort or another in tracking and catching
terrorism-related money launderers.

Yet the accomplishments of this unwieldy bureaucracy have been minimal
at best. The lead agency in the fight to stamp out terrorist financing
is the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
Unfortunately, “FinCen” has developed into the Bush administration’s
newest revolving door. The latest sign of turmoil was the unexpected
departure last week of its director, Robert W. Werner, after just eight
months on the job.

Werner becomes the second FinCen head to leave in less than a year. His
departure follows the leavetakings in April of one of FinCen’s top
policy officials, William Langford Jr., and the agency’s top lawyer,
Brian Ferrell, in August.

All three men have taken top jobs in the private sector, leaving behind
little to crow about regarding the fight to choke off the flow of
dollars to al Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist groups.

According to its own published data, FinCen’s efforts have led to just
10 convictions and the recovery of a mere $21.5 million in laundered
assets since the start of the war on terror. The larger numbers you’ve
been reading about over the years relate mainly to seizures based one
way or another on “suspicious activity.”

The weekend brought some of the grimmest news yet: The New York Times
quoted from a classified interagency document, prepared by officials
from the CIA, the FBI and the Defense Intelligence Agency, that
concluded the Iraqi insurgency has become financially self-sustaining
through black-market financial transactions involving smuggled oil and
counterfeiting.

If true, this is bad news for FinCen since the dollar remains the
world’s only universally accepted international currency, without which
the Iraqi insurgents can’t really finance anything. But if FinCen can’t
spot these transactions, which by definition must ultimately involve
U.S. banks, how can the insurgency be starved of the money to keep it
going?

AND what of Melchizedek? A quick search of the SEC’s EDGAR database
shows that a man claiming to be an ordained priest in the “Order of
Melchizedek” is an outside director in a Longwood, Fla., company called
Raven Moon Entertainment Co. If you’d gotten in at the right moment, a
share of Raven Moon could have put you on easy street since it sold
early last year for a split-adjusted price of $73.50, before collapsing
to less than a penny a share by year’s end.

Since then, the price has fallen even farther, but hey, with 16.2
billion shares outstanding, what else is there to say but hail
Melchizedek, may its light shine!

cbyron [at] nypost [dot] com