Looking to invest in the next exotic resort in the South Pacific? How about an offshore banking haven and communications hub with no income tax? Corterra, a nation of 12 tiny islands scattered north of Tahiti, is supposed to be just the opportunity.
Never heard of it? Neither had we. But the country's purported representatives insist it is for real and are touting the tropical paradise to the affluent residents of Scottsdale, Ariz. Upscale Scottsdale is abuzz with talk of impending investment opportunities on the islands.
What these people don't know is Corterra doesn't officially exist; no one recognizes it as far as we could tell after contacting officials from Fiji to Hong Kong to New Zealand and back. It's largely the product of one man's claim to 12 desolate islands.
Patrick Watters, an aerospace engineer in Utah who moonlights as Corterra's prime minister, says he's spent nearly a decade seeking official recognition, unsuccessfully.
Watters nevertheless is already taking bids for development. His people are passing out Corterran business rules and have set fees for obtaining banking licenses, ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. Golf course developers and international investors have reportedly been consulted. Although Watters says that no money has changed hands yet, his appointed ambassador to the United States predicted, "We should begin development within two to three years."
To convince us of Corterra's legitimacy, Watters sent our associate Dean Boyd a certificate of recognition from a Norwegian group called the International Council of Independent States.
But when we contacted its director, Geir Sor-Reime, in Stavanger, Norway, he told us his group is intended primarily for fun. "Most of our members are imaginary countries," he said. "In fact, you could call us the international council of imaginary states." Members range from postage stamp buffs who make stamps of imaginary nations, to exile groups that claim disputed territories by making up their own countries. Sor-Reime says Corterra is one of the few members trying to portray itself seriously as a nation.
Watters' literature on the islands also claims it has been a sovereign state since 1974. Watters claims to trace his lineage -- and rights -- to an Anglo-Saxon sailor named Hagoth who explored the area in 53 B.C.
Not everyone, of course, accepts Watters' interpretation of history. U.S. officials and numerous Pacific island governments say that according to international law, five islands of Watters' "nation" belong to Kiribatis, a country nearby. The foreign secretary of Kiribatis, Peter Timeon, declared Watters "must be living in a dream world."
Watters tells us that some in Washington have privately supported of his efforts in the past. From 1980 to 1988, Washington let Watters register as a foreign agent for Corterra's interests.
The future of Watters' proposed paradise appears iffy at best. Kiribatis' Timeon told us that if Watters tried to claim the five islands belonging to his government, "he would be sent home."