It’s quite a story.

A Swiss citizen living with his family in a rural part of a peaceful, far-away island becomes a victim of war crimes perpetrated by an occupying power, his property pillaged and plundered, and his family home lost to a criminal fraud involving a cabal of government and corporate officials, while he lives in fear of retaliation for filing a war crimes complaint with his government.

It sounds like the product of an overly imaginative novelist.

But those alleged war crimes supposedly took place in Kilauea on the north shore of Kauai over the past five years, according to a criminal complaint filed with the Federal Attorney General in Berne, Switzerland, in January 2015.

The Hawaiian petrel chicks were tucked into their new nests at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.
Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai Courtesy: Ann Bell/USFWS/2015

The complaint was filed on behalf of Yoshito l’Hote, a Kauai resident and Swiss citizen, by David Keanu Sai, a political scientist and lecturer in Hawaiian Studies at Windward Community College in Kaneohe. Sai also claims the titles of Acting Minister of the Interior and chairman of the Council of Regency of the Hawaiian Kingdom Government, one of several private groups vying for public recognition as the true modern representatives of the kingdom.

l’Hote is president of the Kilauea Neighbhood Association, and state business registration records show he is the agent for a new nonprofit organization, `Aina Ho`okupu o Kilauea, formed to manage the Kilauea Community Agricultural Center, a 75-acre agricultural park complex.

The complaint is grounded in Sai’s controversial interpretation of Hawaii’s history, which he says shows Hawaii was never legally made part of the United States, the U.S. has no authority in islands, the state government is a fiction, and the laws of the Hawaiian Kingdom are still in force.

Sai’s version of history has been welcomed by one wing of the movement for Hawaiian sovereignty, who cite it as proof of the illegitimacy of all political authorities and the state and federal courts.

But it has also saddled the broader Hawaiian community with a highly visible advocate who appears to be out of touch with reality and alienates the broader public, at a sensitive time when another part of the Hawaiian community is trying to demonstrate the legitimacy of its election of delegates to a planned political convention.

There’s no doubt that Sai’s provocative theory makes for interesting debates over historical minutia, but it breaks down quickly when, as in this case, it is applied in contemporary circumstances.

David Keanu Sai is a Windward Community College professor of Hawaiian studies.
David Keanu Sai is a Windward Community College lecturer in Hawaiian Studies. University of Hawaii

Seeking Anonymity

l’Hote, a longtime Kauai resident and well-known member of the Kilauea community, expressed surprise at being questioned about the complaint, which was widely circulated online only after his name was blacked out.

He pleaded to be allowed to retain his anonymity and asked that his name not be published.

“I’m here to be a good part of the community, to make Hawaii a better place,” he said. “I’m not someone who is malignant.”

Civil Beat only uses anonymous sources in cases when that’s the only way we can share important information, and we believe that the public benefit of the information outweighs the problems that come with using unnamed sources. It’s not enough that someone asks for anonymity; we must be able to justify why we granted it.

In this case, there is no valid reason to protect l’Hote’s identity. He is willingly participating in a legal action and identified in a publicly available document filed with a government entity. Representatives of the Hawaiian Kingdom Government, headed by Sai, are distributing the complaint widely. The complaint also makes serious allegations of criminal behavior against people whose names are being broadly distributed as part of the Kingdom’s efforts to get attention to the case.

Copies of the complaint and dismissal documents being circulated by the Hawaiian Kingdom Government on its website and other means redacted l’Hote’s name. Civil Beat identified him through property records cited in the complaint, which identified the home purchased by l’Hote and his wife in 2010.

When contacted by phone, he acknowledged that the complaint was filed on his behalf.

l’Hote explained that although he has never been aligned with any specific sovereignty group, he has become concerned about injustices to the Hawaiian people stemming from the overthrow. He saw the complaint as a way to get the Swiss government “to look into it, sift through all the mud and tell me if there’s anything there.”

“I did not have any intention to incriminate any one criminally,” he said, despite the complaint’s direct request for Swiss prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against a list of officials.

When asked about some of the more outlandish allegations in his complaint, he stopped and referred further questions to Sai, who he described as his “attorney.”

He acknowledged that Sai, a political scientist and community college lecturer, is not a lawyer, but said “he has a different standing in international law.”

“I can only rely on what Mr. Sai is saying,” he told me.

Sai could not be reached on Tuesday for comment on the case.

What Mr. Sai Says

Sai has long argued that all property deeds issued since the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893 are defective and invalid because they were not done under the law of the Kingdom, which he insists still exists. It’s an argument that has been used in futile attempts to block foreclosure actions by lenders against homeowners who fall behind on their payments, and by scammers who have defrauded homeowners with debt relief schemes. Relying on the same theory resulted in Sai’s conviction for attempted theft in what has become known as the Perfect Title case back in the 1990s.

The l’Hote family bought a home in Kilauea for $430,000 in August 2010. However, the complaint argues, their title is defective because the State of Hawaii is a pretend government, and “all value and equity they may have had in the property is gone, and the $430,000 the (deleted)’s paid for the property in August 2010 is lost.”

The complaint asks for criminal prosecution of those responsible for “the pillaging of his personal property through unlawful appropriation and criminal fraud that has rendered his home worthless.”

But real estate records show not only that the Kauai family still owns the home, but it has increased in value from the purchase price to $787,200, according to the county’s most recent appraisal for tax purposes.

Far from being rendered worthless, the estimated value of the property rose by 83 percent in just five years.

The complaint also accuses state and federal tax authorities of “the war crime of pillaging under the guise of taxation.”

Sai’s complaint argues that taxation falls under the war crime of “appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”

While everyone grumbles about taxes at some point, few would characterize collection of taxes as a war crime.

And this turns out to be a delicate argument to make in light of the l’Hote’s personal and professional position.  The Kilauea ag project has drawn on state and county support, and has benefited from at least one legislative grant, according to published accounts. 

And his wife, Jennifer Waipa, identifies herself on her Facebook page as an employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge System. Both appear to be active and productive members of the community, and there’s nothing in his or his family’s everyday life to indicate they have been victims of war crimes.

Case Dismissed

The Swiss government took little time in dismissing the case.

The attorney general took less than two weeks to decline to pursue the matter. That dismissal was upheld on appeal, and Sai and those he represented were assessed about $500 in court costs, according to a summary of that decision (translated from the original German).

Even after the case was dismissed, the Hawaiian Kingdom website falsely claimed the court’s decision recognized that an 1864 treaty between Switzerland and the Hawaiian Kingdom “was never canceled—and is still in effect.”

But while the summary contains that language, it was merely paraphrasing from Sai’s own letter putting the complaint forward, and not in any way stating the court’s own conclusion.

This isn’t the first time that Sai and his supporters have falsely characterized the outcome of one of his long series of similar complaints in order to inflate the value of his theories and boost his perceived importance in sovereignty circles. But such intellectual dishonesty will eventually become obvious to all but the most casual observers.

About the Author

  • Ian Lind
    Ian Lind is an award-winning investigative reporter and columnist who has been blogging daily for more than 20 years. He has also worked as a newsletter publisher, public interest advocate and lobbyist for Common Cause in Hawaii, peace educator, and legislative staffer. Lind is a lifelong resident of the islands. Read his blog here. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.