The city of Newark, New Jersey fell victim to a humiliating scam in which its mayor signed a "sister city" agreement with a nonexistent Hindu nation called "The United States of Kailasa."
Kailasa exists only as an elaborate website created by a fugitive who's been on the lam from Indian authorities since 2019 after being charged with rape, reports CBS New York. However, in a January 12 ceremony, Mayor Ras Baraka signed a cultural and trade deal with the contrived country.
"Whose job was it to do a simple Google search?" asked Newark resident Shakee Merritt. "No one in City Hall, not one person did a Google search."
On its website, Kailasa portrays Newark as having committed the entire United States of America to a "bilateral agreement." Newark officials say no money exchanged hands, and the deal with the fictional polity has been rescinded -- just in case Kailasa tried to enforce it.
Kailasa reportedly springs from the imagination of Swami Nithyananda, an accused scam artist and sex fiend. Nithyananda, who portrays himself as a "God-Man," is wanted in India for "child abduction and sexual assault, forcing children to collect donations [for] fake enterprises, and sexual assaults against an Indian actress and an American woman," according to Tap Into Newark.
It seems Newark isn't the only American entity that's been enticed into intercourse with Kailasa. In addition to photos from the Newark ceremony, Kailasa's website also includes various honorific proclamations from dozens of cities, including Winston-Salem, Dayton, Canton, Richmond and Asheville.
The site also includes a purported California Senate proclamation recognizing "The Sovereign State of Shrikailasa" and Nithyananda as the Supreme Pontiff of Hinduism.
India's ABP News Bureau said the incident sheds unflattering light on American governments:
"The Newark stunt illustrates how easy it is for groups to manipulate municipal and state bodies, and take advantage of their lack of international sophistication to unwittingly make them appear to confer legitimacy on their causes, even when they are at odds with official US positions."
In a statement acknowledging it had been hoodwinked, Newark City Hall reiterated its dedication to fostering foreign relations: "Although this was a regrettable incident, the city of Newark remains committed to partnering with people from diverse cultures in order to enrich each other with connectivity, support, and mutual respect."
It's not clear where Kailasa is supposed to be located. The BBC has said it's purportedly on an island near Ecuador, though that country's government says Nithyananda doesn't live there, according to Tap Into Newark's Tony Gallotto.