The decision by an Associate Minister accused of forgery and fraud to leave the country in the middle of the hearing of allegations against him has angered Justice Mata Tuatagaloa.
The Associate Minister of the Ministry of the Prime Minister, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga, who has pleaded not guilty to the allegations brought against him by business associates – including another senior H.R.P.P. member – is accompanying Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi to Tuvalu.
They are attending that country’s Flag Day celebrations.
When the matter was called for the final submissions yesterday, his lawyer, Leulua’iali’i Olinda Woodroffe said his departure was a last minute decision.
“I take the blame your Honour,” said Leulua’iali’i.
“As we walked out of the Court on the third day of the hearing, it was then he advised me that he had received an urgent call from the Prime Minister to accompany him to Tuvalu. He was supposed to be back today and my understanding is he was to return this morning (yesterday) but apparently he will be returning this evening.”
Justice Tuatagaloa was not impressed. She was concerned about how members of the public would perceive such a situation.
“The defendant should have never left the country without an application before the Court,” said Justice Tuatagaloa.
“It doesn’t make him look good. He is a politician, this is the judiciary, this is the justice (system) and for something like that to have happened, what does that make us look like?That politicians are above the law?”
In response, Leulua’iali'i continued to apologise and told the Court it was her fault.
“I take responsibility and I should’ve come back to Court to seek your permission,” said the lawyer.
But the Judge reminded the lawyer that she was missing the point.
“Mrs. Woodroffe I take what you are saying but look at this,” said Tuatagaloa. “What is the public going to say?”
Prosecutor and Acting Director of the National Prosecution Office, Muriel Lui also shared her concerns about Peseta’s absence.
She raised the issue of the Associate Minister’s bail condition explaining that she does not have it with her because she did not anticipate it.
She suggested his decision to leave the country “might be a breach of his bail condition”.
“You are correct your Honour it is implied for politicians that there is a disregard of the law and justice,” said Ms. Lui.
“We have an objection to this that he can just leave the jurisdiction especially when his trial is not finished.”
Justice Tuatagaloasaid the Court had two options.
Those options are, either Peseta will be issued with a warrant of arrest or the matter will be adjourned until Monday for him to appear and final submissions to be filed.
Leulua’iali’i pleaded to defer the matter until Monday considering the reasons she had given.
She said she was under the impression that Peseta will be back in the country yesterday.
On another issue the lawyer pointed out that it would be helpful to call the matter on Monday since she had difficulty with technology to allow her to do spell check on her submission.
“I am quite embarrassed that there are some errors because of technology problems,” she said.
Justice Tuatagaloa suggested that perhaps a warrant of arrest should be issued for Peseta to remand him in custody “while you attend to your submission.
“In that way your submission will be technologically savvy and his opportunity to be in custody for what he has done.”
Once again, Leulua’iali’i urged the Judge to consider that it was her at fault and the delay on her submission is her responsibility,not her client.
Justice Tuatagaloa then adjourned the matter until Monday with “great reluctance on my part to issue a warrant of arrest.
“I accept what counsel is saying and for you to file your submission by 5 oclock today and adjourn the matter on Monday 10 a.m.”
Peseta is facing charges of forgery and fraud. The charges arose from a complaint filed by the former Speaker of Parliament, La’aulialemalietoaLeuateaPolata’ivao, Apulu Lance Polu and Martin Jonathan Schwalger with the Police.
The plaintiffs are shareholders of a company called Local Partners and Associate Limited. Peseta’s son, Lei’ataua Danny, was also a shareholder of the company. The complainants claim Peseta had forged the signature of Mr. Schwalger in order to transfer shares from his son, Danny, to his name.