22:16, March 16 198 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-16 22:16:05
The Pacific project  Samoan chief found guilty of enslaving villagers in New Zealand over 25 years

A New Zealand-based Samoan chief has been found guilty of human trafficking and using 13 of his countrymen as slaves over a 25 year period.

Joseph Auga Matamata, 65, also known as Villiamu Samu, was found guilty on 10 counts of trafficking and 13 counts of slavery following a five-week trial at the High Court in Napier.

He was acquitted of one charge of trafficking relating to a young boy he adopted in Samoa in 2016. It took the jury of five men and six women seven and a half hours to return the verdicts.

It is the first time anyone in New Zealand had been charged with both human trafficking and slavery simultaneously.

Matamata’s offending occurred between 1994 and April last year involving 13 Samoans from three villages on the island of Upolu. The youngest was just 12.

The Crown argued there was a pattern to Matamata’s offending, with him bringing small groups of people to New Zealand over the 25-year period for his “own financial benefit”.

He promised paid horticultural work or schooling in New Zealand and paid for their flights, visas and passports. But upon arrival they worked long hours, often seven days a week, for no pay while “bags of cash” were handed over to Matamata, Crown prosecutor Clayton Walker said.

Matamata’s lawyer argued his chiefly status meant he had a responsibility to look after the whole family and it was typical in Samoan culture for all members of a household to pool their wages to help everyone.

All 13 victims, who gave evidence through translators in court, said they worked without pay and had to do chores around Matamata’s house where they lived behind a tall perimeter fence and a locked gate. They were not allowed to leave, or speak to anyone at work or church, or even their families in Samoa, without his permission.

They were also subjected to regular verbal and physical abuse if they worked too slowly or did not perform their chores to his standards, claims which Matamata denied.

He said the men and women came to New Zealand on holiday and he had no control over those who ran away and became overstayers.

The locked perimeter fence around his property was there to “protect his family” in a rough neighbourhood and he had a responsibility to ensure their safety because they were new to the country, he said

All of Matamata’s victims said they were too scared to complain about their treatment, given Matamata’s matai or chiefly status, which commanded absolute obedience.

Matamata’s lawyer Roger Philip said the case was really about “grievances over money” and the complainants had lied or were “confused” about what had happened.

Summing up the case on Monday, Justice Cull told jurors the slavery charges rested on whether the accused used each of the complainants as his property.

“Ownership implies a background relationship of control, so the link between ownership and slavery is control. Where slavery is concerned, this control is tantamount.”

Each slavery charge carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. The human trafficking charges carried a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison or a NZ$500,000 fine.

Matamata has been remanded in custody for sentencing in May.

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