For the past 12 years, Anthony Welch and his companion Theresa have lived a life of Robinson Crusoe alone on a South Pacific island virtually untouched by mankind.
Welch, a retired British property investor, hopes the tranquility will soon be shattered by the 21,000 cryptocurrency investors he is trying to convince to move to his island and form an unregulated “crypto utopia”.
Under Welch’s plan, the 3 million square meter (32 million square foot) island, which is part of the Vanuatu archipelago between Australia and Fiji, would be transformed from 90% undisturbed rainforest into a “sustainable smart city”, filled with multi-storey buildings. and offices for cryptocurrency investors around the world.
Welch, who renamed the island from its original name Lataro to Satoshi (a nod to Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym of the person who invented bitcoin), has teamed up with crypto evangelists. currency to create a “blockchain-based democracy” and “the crypto capital of the world”.
However, Welch will first have to rescind its previous marketing of the island as a “wildlife preserve” home to rare giant crabs.
In his previous attempt to sell the island for $12m (£9m)Lataro is described as an ecological paradise “covered in lush rainforests, with a wonderful array of flora and fauna that has been there for thousands of years undisturbed and will surely make anyone think they have stepped back in time” .
A video promoting the island for sale in 2017 boasts that the 4 miles of “pristine coral reef surrounding the island is a marine conservation area” which “is teeming with beautiful fish and coral life”. It says only a handful of people have ever dived the reef and “most parts of it have never been explored”.
The Welches have already asked the government of Vanuatu to designate the island as a wildlife sanctuary to ‘prevent the extinction’ of the rare coconut crab. “The ultimate goal is to strongly re-establish the breed on the island,” Theresa said.
A website describing the couple’s efforts to establish the wildlife sanctuary was deleted shortly after the Guardian approached Welch for comment. He said the reserve was “voluntary” and he could “dismantle at any time” to allow the Crypto City to be built.
“It was the last place with coconut crabs, they [the local population] had decimated them absolutely everywhere else on Espiritu Santo [Vanuatu’s largest island nearby]“Welch told the Guardian.
“We formed the reserve to try and stop them from decimating them here to bring the numbers back up…the government’s environment department supported us to set up a wildlife refuge here.”
The Satoshi Island Project is the latest in a series of programs aimed at bringing cryptocurrency fanatics out from behind the blockchain into their bedrooms and into the real-world community in small island states.
The president of Palau, another Pacific island nation about 3,000 miles northeast of Vanuatu, has launched plans to become “the world’s first national government-backed stablecoin” by the end of the year. .
President Surangel Whipps Jr said the country has partnered with Ripple, an American cryptocurrency company whose executives have been accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of stealing $1.3 billion worth of tokens, “to create a national digital currency, providing the citizens of Palau with greater financial access”.
Plans to establish Cryptoland on an island in Fiji – where investors were told they would “enjoy a first-class crypto lifestyle” – fell apart earlier this month when promoters failed to haven’t bought the island.
Welch says Satoshi Island will succeed where Cryptoland failed because he and his partners own the island, and says the development plans have the support of the Vanuatu government and the local community.
However, the Vanuatu government did not respond to requests for comment and Welch was unable to provide contact details for current local residents.
“We’re trying to build a community,” Welch said in an interview via satellite link to the island which currently has no electricity, water, telephone or internet connection. “We are not trying to grow and make a profit.”
He said a team of cryptocurrency evangelists looking around the world for a location to form a “crypto company” approached Welch after see his island advertised for sale for $12 million on the private island real estate website.
Welch took the island off the market and entered into a complex partnership with Hong Kong-based architect James Law, Australian crypto entrepreneur Denys Troyak and Daniel Agius, COO of the Vanuatu Investment Migration Bureau, an agency that sells Vanuatu citizenship.
“The crypto haven they want to build is a really cool idea and a wonderful use of a place we’ve been able to live in for 12 years,” Welch said.
“The team had been working for some time to find a location, the key issue was trying to find a government that…would allow a company to exist on crypto transactions. Most countries in the world want to collect taxes and therefore do not want crypto transactions to occur because they cannot monitor what is happening. Vanuatu has no income tax of any kind.
The trio promises 21,000 investors that the island “will become the home of crypto professionals and enthusiasts, with the goal of being seen as the crypto capital of the world.”
“Island life will be an experience like no other, giving the crypto community a way to live and work among like-minded people in a place designed around the industry we love,” it says on a site promoting the island.
Successful applicants wishing to live on the island will receive a Non-Fungible Token (NFT) granting them “Citizenship of Satoshi Island”. However, the fine print details indicate that they will also need to obtain Vanuatu citizenship to live on the island.
Vanuatu citizenship costs $130,000 and allows “golden passport” visa-free travel to 129 countries, including the UK and all Schengen countries in Europe.
The country strongly promotes its “citizenship by investment” program despite fears that the program has been exploited by fugitives, politicians and disgraced businessmen.
A Guardian investigation last year found that among the 2,200 foreign nationals granted citizenship in 2020 were a Syrian businessman facing US sanctions against his businesses, a suspected North Korean politician, a Italian businessman accused of extorting the Vatican and South African brothers accused of having $3.6 billion. cryptocurrency heist.
Vanuatu this month appointed CS Global Partners, a Mayfair-based citizenship marketing company, to attract more buyers to buy Vanuatu nationalitywhich is granted with an online “oath taking ceremony” and does not require the new citizen to visit the country.
The sale of citizenships is equivalent to almost 50% of Vanuatu’s total annual income, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF).