AUSTIN, Texas, Jan. 24 -- Francois A. Ayi, who claims to be a king in the West African nation of Togo, was given the red-carpet treatment when he arrived at Austin's Robert Mueller Airport this week. But federal officials, as well as Togo's Embassy in Washington, say Ayi is a self-promoter who has inflated small-time tribal connections into a full-time occupation as a king in exile. Rich Appleton, the U.S. State Department's Togo Desk officer, said that over the last two years he has fielded questions about Ayi from oilmen, archbishops, generals and the chaplain of the U.S. Senate. 'The guy is very, very good at spinning stories,' Appleton said in Wednesday's Austin American-Statesman. 'For him to say this stuff seems an exaggeration at the least. I can tell you this much. There's no kingdom, and there's no king.' Fifteen months ago, Ayi -- then going by the title of prince -- scheduled his own coronation at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington. The invitation to the enthronement as head of the 'Guin kingdom' included a $350-a-table dinner. It listed the Togolese Embassy as a co- sponsor, but it was not. The embassy on Monday issued a statement saying there is no kingdom of the Guin in Togo to which a citizen can claim to be heir. 'All that the embassy knows about the Togolese Ayi is that he might come from a family of traditional chiefs in the village of Glidji in Togo...In Togo and even right now in the U.S.A., there are a number of Togolese who have that same family relationship,' the embassy said.
Still, a number of Texans -- including state Representative Warren Chisum -- are scheduled to attend a Friday night fund-raiser at the Austin Marriott Hotel for the Royal Foli-Bebe A. Ayi Foundation, which Ayi says is named for his grandfather, the former king who died in 1992. Invitations to the event list Chisum and state Senator Rodney Ellis as co-sponsors. A spokesman for Ellis said the senator was troubled to learn about the questions surrounding Ayi's status and will not attend. But Annette Glass, an aide to Chisum, said, 'We don't feel like he (Ayi) misrepresented himself.' Glass invited Ayi to Austin after meeting him at a convention for conservative legislators. 'One person will say based on this, 'I've absolutely decided he isn't what he says he is.' And another will say, 'I've researched it thoroughly and I think he's telling the truth.' It's like the Bible. You can pick a position or belief and find support for it,' Glass said. Ayi attributes the embassy and State Department skepticism to politics. 'The embassy's fear is if I'm coming back (to Togo),' said Ayi, who has lived in the United States for 10 years and has not been to Togo in seven years. 'Because I am doing what they cannot do for their own country.' Ayi claims the money he takes in through fundraisers is used to buy food and medical supplies that he has sent home to Togo and neighboring Ghana and Benin. Glass and Michael Lofton, an Austin cable talk show host, greeted Ayi at Mueller Airport on Monday and ushered him to a white limo waiting at the curb. Ayi was accompanied by a 'chief of protocol,' an American named Robert Moffitt. Lofton and Glass raised the money to put the two men up at the Marriott throughout their stay, and Austin Cab Co. donated a van and driver.