An Associate Minister accused of forgery and fraud before the Supreme Court protested his innocence when he took the stand yesterday.
The Associate Minister for the Ministry of the Prime Minister, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga, strongly denied the allegations brought against him by other company shareholders – including a fellow member of the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P) and Cabinet Minister, Laaulialemalietoa Leuatea Polata’ivao.
The company in question is Local Partners and Associates Ltd. which Peseta’s son, Leiataua Danny Schwenke, is a shareholder and Director.
Other Directors and shareholders include Apulu Lance Polu, Martin Schwalger and La’auli.
Last year, the trio lodged a complaint with Police accusing Peseta of forging the signature of Mr. Schwalger to transfer his son’s share to his name.
Yesterday, Peseta maintained his innocence, saying Mr. Schwalger himself had signed the document.
Justice Mata Tuatagaloa is presiding with Peseta being represented by lawyer, Leuluaiali’i Olinda Woodroffe. Muriel Lui of the National Prosecution Office is the prosecutor.
According to Peseta, the company initially called Local Partners in 2012 was changed in 2013 when Chinese businessman Tupailelei Jack Chen arrived.
He said Mr. Chen was interested in having shares in the company, as well as Apulu Lance Polu. The company name was then changed to Local Partners and Associates Limited (L.P.A.).
“There was a meeting where La’auli and Martin who brought Apulu along around 2013 to discuss the receivership of Pure Pasifika,” Peseta recalled.
Pure Pasifika was a nonu exporting company, which has since gone bust.
“I had made it clear that my son’s shares will remain 50percent and the other 50percent is up to Martin and Apulu.
They said the Chinese man will give money for shares in the company and that is when I agreed to bring down the shares of Danny to 30 percent. I had also adviced Apulu at the time to go to Visekota to register his name under company.”
Visekota was Maiava Visekota Peteru, the lawyer for L.P.A.
Peseta said at the time they had agreed to bid to buy Pure Pasifika for $1.5million. When the bid was successful the shareholders then discussed how they were going to pay the substantial amount.
Pure Pasifika had a factory warehouse, about 11 vehicles, one acre of land and machines to process nonu. In the factory was a stock of nonu juice valued at $6million from when the company went into receivership.
“Another meeting was called after to discuss the shares of the company and the payment of the $1.5million,” said the M.P.
“I suggested that the easiest way to go about it is for each shareholder to pay their shares. My son had shares of 30 percent so he’ll have to pay about $200,000. I wasn’t worried about my son’s shares because I have land asset to guarantee his shares.”
Peseta said Apulu and Mr. Schwalger did not have the money. He said he questioned them as to how they wanted to run a company if they didn’t have money.
He said they later agreed to apply for a loan from the National Provident Fund, an application which was rejected.
“We agreed to get a loan from N.P.F. thinking we can easily recover the money from the $6million worth of nonu juice that is in the company,” he said.
“But N.P.F. rejected it saying there are not enough assets of Pure Pasifika to secure the loan. They needed a piece of land, which had much more value. Then La’auli and Apulu suggested to use my land opposite A.C.P. (Vaitele) which has a big value.
“I thought about it. Considering the nonu juice stored at the factory, I thought it was enough to make the payments and I also looked at my son who is now involved in the company with his registered shares.”
Peseta said he agreed to give the land to buy Pure Pasifika and a contribution of his son in the company because “Martin and Apulu had no money at this time”.
It was accepted by N.P.F. and the new company started around April 2013.
But Peseta soon saw there were problems arising from company after the assets of Pure Pasifika were taken over by L.P.A.
“The vehicles were removed from the company land taken and to La’auli’s land,” Peseta told the Court.
“A month later my son came to me and we talked. He told me about what he was seeing at the company. He also told me he is not a signatory of the bank account, just Apulu and La’auli who did not contribute any money in the set up of the company. They had ignored the person who started the company with the land that has a value of $2.1million.”
Peseta said he then decided to approach the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour to see the shares of the company.
To his surprise, the records at M.C.I.L. showed the shares were changed with Apulu having 35 percent while Schwalger and Lei’ataua Danny 32.5percent each.
“That was when the commotions in the company started and I no longer trusted them,” said Peseta.
“I went home and talked with my son explaining to him what has happened. He then said to me he wanted to resign because of what has happened to the shares. He said it wasn’t what was agreed upon. He also sad that he is not a signatory of the company’s accounts.”
A board meeting was called where Peseta voiced his concerns.
“At this meeting, I said to Apulu why have you changed the shares with you having more shares than my son?
“He replied to me he will go and check. I received a letter from M.C.I.L. that apologised to me about the error in shares.
“At this meeting, my son tendered his resignation. I asked to go back to the initial shares agreement with my son holding 50 percent while they can do whatever they want with the other 50percent.
“It was then we found that the space (on the paper) was filled with shares but there was no money to finance their shares.”
Peseta said his son is another Director of the Aldan Company, that owns the land used to guarantee the loan from N.P.F to buy Pure Pasifika.
Around September 2015, Peseta said he went to see the company lawyer, Maiava Visekota Peteru for a resolution to transfer the shares to him.
But Maiava had advised Peseta he needs one more Director to confirm the board decision and to sign the resolution.
Before Peseta could continue his evidence, Prosecutor Muriel Lui objected.
Ms. Lui told the Court that some of the evidence from Peseta had not been put to Apulu.
Continuing his evidence, Peseta said he was later instructed by Maiava to come on the next day. She had arranged for Mr. Schwalger to come in the office to sign the resolution.
On that occasion, Mr. Schwalger did not turn up but La’auli did.
Peseta said he confronted La’auli about his son’s shares. He told him he should be happy that they are getting something from the company, with his son keeping the other 50 percent.
According to Peseta, Maiava suggested to reschedule the meeting to a day when Mr. Schwalger could attend.
Peseta said he had gone to see Mr. Schwalger telling him his concerns and intention to transfer funds shares of his son under him.
He added Mr. Schwalger agreed to meet in Maiava’s office the next day.
“Martin came to Maiava’s office where the resolution was explained to him. I told him that once he agreed to what was on the document then he can sign it,” said Peseta.
“He then signed the resolutions and I had asked Maiava to give me a copy of the letter which she did.”
Peseta told the Court he later went to M.C.I.L. to transfer the shares of his son to him. When he arrived at M.C.I.L. he was instructed by an employee only Maiava could authorise the change.
Peseta telephoned Maiava who gave the password and the username to the M.C.I.L. employee to make the changes. He maintained that the document was legitimate and it was not forged.
When Maiava gave evidence, she told the Court she was instructed by La’auli to incorporate the company under the name Local Partners and Associates.
It was around some time in May when she was contacted by Peseta, where he expressed how unhappy he was with how the company was being run. He was particularly concerned about the assets.
“He was also unhappy that the shares were changed from 50/50percent,” said Maiava.
“I told him I was not aware of the changes in the shares. I was then asked to contact La’auli who came down and they discussed the shares.”
According to Maiava, La’auli and Peseta came to the office where they discussed the shares and agreed to revert the shares back to 50/50percent.
“I prepared the resolution but it was not signed on that day,” said Maiava.
“Martin came and signed it on another day and I took it that he understood the document from La’auli who was the point of contact for Martin.”
Maiava insisted she was asked to write up a resolution during the meeting between Peseta and La’auli.
She told the Court she had trouble making the changes of the shares of the company and it was the reason Peseta personally visited the M.C.I.L. office to do it. The hearing continues.