Senior Immigration official testifies in hearing of alleged passport sale

The Assistant Chief Executive Officer of Immigration, Siaopo Pese, took the stand yesterday in the trial of a former Immigration Officer, David Nomereta Uaine, who is accused of the sale of Samoan passports.

Uaine faces 32 criminal charges, including forgery, corruption, bribery, improper issue of Samoan travel documents, unlawful recording of information from the passport database and false representation. 

The five-day trial, which started on Wednesday, is presided over by Supreme Court Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren. Prosecuting is Lucymaria Sio-Ofoia, of the Attorney General’s Office. 

Mr. Pese’s evidence was based on the process of issuing of new passports.

 “The process starts from the cashier,” he explained. “The counter person passes the cashier the details and then he/she enters all the details of the person."

“After, the cashier then passes up to the data entry person and then goes to the research and that division investigates the application on whether it should be approved or not and whether the applicant is a Samoan citizen.”

Mr. Pese said the authorising officer then receives the application to check if there is a need for correction before the form is returned to the data entry. 

“The authorised person can only view the application, he cannot change or correct anything. After that then he presses the authorize button on the computer and ready for print.”

According to the charge sheet, four Samoan passports were allegedly sold by Uaine between December 2016 and May 2017 and in return amounts received range from $684.24, $980.71, $382.80 and $2,092 on four different occasions. The passports were issued in the names of Dave Afele Allen; Mark Filo Hamden; Franco Fitu Rudolf and Miriama Kaba Hugo.

Mr. Pese said Falaniko Leiataua, Principal Officer who oversees the passport division, referred one of the cases to him.

“Falaniko saw the application and that something was not right in that particular application,” said Mr. Pese. “The details were different from the photo of the person applying for a passport. The person applying for a passport is a female, in this first case and the details seem like Samoan details but the photo was not."

“The name of the person on this application is Janet Uko.”

Mr. Pese said when he saw the application he then instructed Mr. Leiataua to stop the process. He wanted to see Uaine. He said at first glance of the application, he knew the handwriting belonged to Uaine.

Mrs. Sio-Ofoia asked the witness how he knew that the handwriting on the form belongs to Uaine.

“The Court probably won’t believe me, but as a Manager I have studied my entire staff member’s writings and their signatures,” he said.

“So up to this date, I learned and studied how each of my staff member’s write and their signatures. I believe this is one of the mechanisms that any manager should know especially in this particular process where more than two people are involved.”

Mr. Pese told the Court that when he spoke with the accused, he admitted that he was involved in this particular application and he had to suspend him pending investigations. 

“I also instructed Falaniko to go back six months before this particular case to see if there were any other applications and we found other applications before this particular one.”

Mr. Pese also said when the accused was on suspension, he came to see him more than three times to apologise.

“He told me why he did it, but I told him that there isn’t any more chance for him at the office but he has to wait for the outcome of the investigation.” 

During cross examination, defense lawyer, Unasa Iuni Sapolu, put it to the witness that he is not an expert in handwriting.

She also asked for evidence to prove that the accused had apologised and admitted to the act. 

The witness agreed that he is not an expert and that he also had no proof.

“I also don’t recall the date of our meeting,” he said.

The day before, Unasa questioned Mr. Leiataua, arguing that Uaine was the least experienced employee in the Passports Division.

 “I put it to you that this is the situation where a young man, the least experienced of your team is facing charges arising out of Travel and Related Documents Issuance System (T.A.R.D.I.S.) which was supposed to be intact a 100 percent,” Unasa said. 

Mr. Leiataua disagreed.

“The accused is well versed with the system; he underwent training pertaining to the system, and other aspects of the Passport Division within Immigration. So I reject the statement that he’s the least experienced employee.”

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