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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Jester Leads Tonga Into Trouble

SUVA, Fiji -- Tonga, the Pacific's only kingdom, is being rocked by a scandal involving the loss of millions of dollars in investments -- based partially on the advice of its 83-year-old king's court jester, an American businessman.

Millions of dollars have been wiped from a fund the impoverished nation of 100,000 had built up by selling passports -- mainly to Hong Kong residents worried about the return to Beijing.

Details remain unclear, but officials say up to $20 million has disappeared after apparently being invested in the United States in 1999. Much of the money is believed to have been lost when the high-tech bubble burst.

The loss is staggering for a nation run on a budget of around $55 million a year and dependent mainly on revenue from pumpkin exports and money sent home by Tongans living overseas.

"It is an embarrassment and shows the incompetence of the former finance minister in giving advice to the government," said Tongan lawmaker and businessman Fred Sevele recently.

Tonga's auditor-general, Pohiva Tuinetoa, dashed to the United States last week to investigate after the king's official court jester withdrew the funds from a Bank of America account.

Jesse Bogdonoff, a California-based investment adviser who was reportedly appointed jester after impressing King Tupou Taufa'ahau with investment advice and because of his April Fools' birthday, could not immediately be reached for comment.