A senior Police officer, Tagaolo Iosefatu Wright, has been jailed for one year for stealing petrol from the Maritime Division of the Police.
The decision was delivered by Justice Vui Clarence Nelson in the Supreme Court last week.
Tagaolo was represented by lawyer, Leota Raymond Schuster while Lucy Sio appeared for the prosecution.
“In respect of the three counts of theft of petrol you are accordingly convicted and sentenced to 12 months in prison,” Justice Vui said in sentencing.
“On the charge of theft of the plywood, to account for the fact that the sheets were returned, convicted and sentenced to 3 months in prison, concurrent term. Restitution monies of $1,000 to be released to Ministry of Police forthwith.”
The defendant was found guilty of three counts of theft as a servant for stealing a total of 120 litres of petrol during 2014. He was also found guilty of theft as a servant for stealing four sheets of plywood in January 2015.
At the time the defendant held the rank of Superintendent and headed the Division. The petrol is used by the Police patrol vessel MV Nafanua and its smaller support craft.
The following is the decision by Justice Vui:
1. After a defended hearing, defendant was found guilty of three counts of theft as a servant of a total of 120 litres of petrol during 2014 and one count of theft as a servant of four sheets of plywood in January 2015. The said properties belonged to the Maritime Division of the Ministry of Police. At the time the defendant held the rank of Superintendent and headed the Division. The petrol and plywood were kept in the Oil Store of the Division compound at Matautu Wharf. The petrol is used by the Police patrol vessel MV Nafanua and its smaller support craft.
2. Defendants method of operation according to the evidence was that he would wait until the end of the day when few officers were on duty and no outsiders/strangers were in the compound. And then instruct one of his subordinate officers to siphon the petrol using a “fa’aga’au” or hose from the 44-gallon drums in which it was kept into smaller 20 litre red coloured jerry-cans. These were then placed in the boot of his mini-van which he used to drive to and from work.
Although only three charges could be proven I was satisfied from the evidence of the many Police officers called that the defendant was engaged over a period of time in the systematic plunder of Police petrol for his own personal purposes. According to some of the witnesses this had been going on for years. I quote from the courts decision handed down on 09 September 2016 paragraph 16:
“The evidence of many other police officers was to the same effect. The defendant habitually siphoned petrol from the 44-gallon drums into smaller jerry-cans which he took away. Not surprisingly the witnesses were unable to provide dates with any degree of accuracy but all agreed it was an ongoing practice engaged in by the defendant who was at the time in charge of the Police Maritime Division and the Motor Vessel Nafanua.
This behaviour according to the testimonies spanned 2014 and possibly earlier as well. Chief Electrician for the Nafanua Talia Nukulaelae recalls he did this six times on the defendants instruction over the period of his employment 2010 to 2014. The defendant was able to do this because no separate record was kept covering the ingoings and outgoings of the Division Oil Store. And because he kept the key….”
3. The theft of the 4 sheets of plywood was different. This was one-off offending but again was carried out on the defendants instructions and under his supervision. Paragraph 32 of the decision:
“Information S1369/15 charges the defendant with stealing from his employer the Ministry of Police four hardboard plywoods valued at $688.00.
The evidence of Senior Sergeant Simaile Tuatagaloa was that in January 2015 he witnessed the plywood and some wire mesh loaded onto a dyna truck belonging to Sergeant Avele Tuilaepa on the defendants instruction. The plywood came from the Oil Store and belonged to the Maritime Division.
It had been ordered for cyclone repair work to the Maritime Base. He said that when he returned from a meeting earlier that particular day, he saw what was happening so took a photo of the plywood and mesh wire in the tray of the dyna.
This was produced as Exhibit “P-6” for prosecution. The Sergeant said he took the photo because many things had been happening but there was no evidence. At page 75 of the transcript of his evidence he says:
“Ua tele mea ua ou vaaia, leai se mau maumau tutu o lea tulaga. Ona ou sau lea o’u tau mai ai loa ile la’uga plywood ia ma mea ia ei totonu o le loli a Avele ou sau loa pu’e le ata.”
He also said in cross examination at page 82 that he had witnessed on some occasions the theft of petrol described by the other police officers.”
4. When hearing the evidence I found it disturbing that the defendants subordinate officers including those of senior rank seemed to be part of a Police culture of blind loyalty and obeisance to superior officers.
Loyalty and obedience are qualities to be admired but not to the extent of turning a blind eye to what was potentially criminal behaviour on the part of a senior colleague. Only when an investigation was launched did these police officers then feel confident and assured enough to report what they had witnessed.
I have struck this in other cases involving Police officers and it is hoped that this kind of inexcusable, neglectful and dishonourable malaise can be permanently purged from the police psyche: and that Police officers of all rank be reminded of the terms of the sacred oath they took before God, the court and the people of this country, an oath which relevantly reads -
“I do swear that I will well and truly serve the Independent State of Samoa without favour or affection; that I will prevent to the best of my power all offences against the same; and that I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law. So help me God.”
An oath which Tagaolo deliberately and callously shredded into many little pieces.
5. The maximum penalty for each count of theft as a servant by virtue of section 165(e) and section 165(f) of the Crimes Act 2013 is 10 years imprisonment. The defendant has been found guilty of four counts of theft as a servant, three involving petrol and one involving four sheets of plywood.
While the monetary value of these materials is small, the criminality of the defendants offending in my view is not. He held a senior rank in the Police and in the Maritime Division, he was the Officer in Charge. The degree of responsibility vested in him was of the highest order. As was the trust bestowed upon him as a Senior Police Officer.