Moonies sign up official backing

New Zealand Herald/August 12, 2006
By Lincoln Tan

A peace movement led by a convicted tax cheat who says he is the new messiah has signed up a government official and a former Speaker of Parliament.

Unification Church founder Rev Sun Myung Moon's supporters - dubbed "Moonies" by the Western media - include Sir Peter Tapsell, former Speaker of Parliament and Police Minister, who is patron of the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) in New Zealand.

The UPF executive board comprises prominent ethnic leaders, including Husaini Ambawala, ethnic co-ordinator for Auckland Labour MPs. Community leaders, mainly from ethnic minority groups and the physically disadvantaged, are being recruited by board members as "peace ambassadors".

Last week the Office of Ethnic Affairs also circulated an email urging people to attend a rally at Auckland's Sky City tomorrow with Mr Moon's wife, Dr Hak Ja Han Moon.

Mr Moon, 86, was jailed in the United States in 1982 for tax evasion and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

In 1992 he declared that he and his wife were "the true parents of all humanity ... the saviour, the Lord of the Second Advent and the Messiah".

Sir Peter, 77, said he became involved with the movement soon after he left Parliament in 1999 when he was invited to attend an expenses-paid UPF conference in the United States.

"I thought, 'I've heard a lot of bad things about the Moonies, I'll go and have a look,"' he said. He found them to be "a bunch of really nice people".

He is not able to join the Moonies' church because he smokes a pipe and it does not admit smokers or drinkers. But he agreed to become patron of its Peace Federation because he supported its principles of cross-cultural and inter-religious unity and strong families.

However, some community leaders said it was not right for government organisations or individuals to use their positions to promote the UPF.

"I think government bodies are being used to further the interest of this group," said one recently appointed peace ambassador, who is of African origin.

"When I first found out that someone who worked for the government had nominated me, I thought it was great for my work to be appreciated by the New Zealand Government. But I was shocked when someone told me later that the signatories on the [ambassador] certificate were the founders of a cult."

Last week, she and hundreds of others on the email list of the Office of Ethnic Affairs received an email inviting them to tomorrow's rally, with a covering note asking them to "pass this around to your community members".

She added: "My first thought was: how can a government body endorse such an organisation?"

Mr Ambawala, who is employed by Labour MP Ashraf Choudhary, said he was one of 16 members on the UPF's NZ executive board, and over the last year had nominated 11 people to become peace ambassadors. There were now more than 70 ambassadors in Auckland.

Referring to the Moons as Father and Mother Moon, he said he joined the UPF because he believed in its vision for world peace, which started from the family.

He said his role on the UPF board had nothing to do with his job for the Government.

But the head of Massey University's School of Social and Cultural Studies, Professor Peter Lineham, said the Ethnic Affairs Office's decision to forward the invitation showed "an astonishing level of naivety".

Ethnic Affairs director Mervyn Singham said his office was not affiliated to the UPF, and sending the email with a covering note was an error of judgment.

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