Former Cabinet Minister and co-accused plead not guilty

Former Cabinet Minister, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt, has entered a not guilty plea to charges against him in the Supreme Court.

La’auli, his wife Heather Tupea, business associates, Apulu Lance Polu, Martin Schwalger and Tuitui Aipulupo all pleaded not guilty when they appeared before Supreme Court Justice Lei’ataualesa Daryl Clarke yesterday. 

Their lawyer, Semi Leung Wai, entered the plea on their behalf.

During the proceedings yesterday, Senior Prosecutor, Leone Su’a-Mailo, of the Office of the Attorney General, informed the Court they had filed 16 additional charges against the defendants.

These are on top of the 233 criminal charges revealed last week. She did not identify what the additional charges are and who is facing what.

But the former Minister and his co-accused face charges that include include forgery; theft; obtaining by deception; causing loss by deception and theft by a person in a special relationship. 

The matter is in connection to an on-going dispute over a nonu company involving another senior member of the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P) and Associate Minister of the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga.

Yesterday, their lawyer Mr. Leung Wai informed the Court that an overseas lawyer, Paul Borich, will represent all five defendants during the trial. 

He then sought the Court’s indulgence for a special fixture on the weeks commencing 9 July and 16 July 2018, which was granted. 

Justice Leiataualesa pointed out there are other open dates earlier than that available. 

However, Mr Leung Wai said these were his instructions given by the defense counsel.  

Mr. Leung Wai further informed the Court that he’s merely a “mouth piece” following instructions by the Defense Attorney.

He also asked the Court for the discovery of documents the Police had confiscated as a result of a search warrant from last April. 

“The reason being is that we want to assure the records are complete and are intact. The Police and prosecution can make copies if they want to,” said Mr. Leung Wai.

In response Leiataualesa inquired as to the legal authority that “prosecution documents be released to defense counsel now that they have been seized pursuant to a warrant?” 

Mr. Leung Wai pointed out that he does not have that authority. 

“The reasons why we want the original is because those documents belong to my clients. 

“And the reason why I want those documents to be released your honor is to make sure that the integrity is maintained. As I said your honor, the Police can make copies. 

“And we can make them available during trial. 

“Your honor those documents are very important for us to counter and make a defense for all the charges and especially the theft charges.”

Ms. Su’a-Mailo informed the Court that prosecution has no problem serving the trial documents within two weeks.

“We ask that the order not be restrictive as we can only serve what is in our possession,” said the Prosecutor. 

“And the application for the originals to be made available and we oppose that application. 

“We can have the documents be available for viewing but prosecution maintains that these documents remain within our possession.”

Mr. Leung Wai insisted that they need the “working papers and accounting records” to assist their case. 

Justice Lei’ataualesa then ordered that all trial documents for the matter are to be filed with the Court and served on defense Counsel by 6 November 2017 at 4pm. 

“And if defense counsel seeks access to the originals, those can be made available on request to the prosecution,” ordered the Supreme Court Justice. 

Regarding bail, the Senior Prosecutor requested that the usual bail conditions be imposed. 

“I understand that when the matter was called before his honor Judge Roma, the defendants were asked to surrender travel documents and that’s one of the conditions and reporting conditions as usual,” said the Prosecutor. 

However, Mr. Leung Wai argued that there were no reporting conditions ordered by the District Court. 

Reporting conditions is when a defendant is ordered to sign in at the Police Station. 

“My clients are prominent members of society and very minimal flight risk. 

“And with respect your honor I seek that the surrender of travel documents still be adhered to, but in terms of reporting if that can be dispensed because they live a very busy life your honor. 

“I am not saying they are different from anybody else, but given that I requested for July and that is a very long period and with respect your honor and given that the flight risk is very minimal, that the usual reporting condition be dispensed.”

Prosecution opposed the application noting the defendants are charged with very serious allegations and like all defendants that come before the Court, the usual conditions should be applied.

“And these defendants are no different from every other member of the public who has been charged and I ask that the usual bail conditions be set,” requested the Senior Prosecutor. 

Justice Lei’ataualesa reaffirmed the order to surrender the travel documents.

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