Court battle begins

Hearing of alleged forgery and fraud claims involving senior members of the H.R.P.P underway in the Supreme Court

The hearing into allegations of fraud and forgery against the Associate Minister of the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga, started in the Supreme Court yesterday.

Represented by lawyer Leulua’iali’i Olinda Woodroffe, the M.P. for Fa’asaleleaga No. 4 has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The charges arose from a complaint filed by the former Speaker of Parliament, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Polata’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, Danny Lei’ataua, was also a shareholder of the company, with 35 percent of shares. 

The complainants claim Peseta had forged the signature of Mr. Schwalger in order to transfer shares from his son, Danny, to his name.

The Acting Director of the National Prosecution Office, Muriel Lui is the Prosecutor. Supreme Court Judge, Justice Mata Tuatagaloa is presiding.

The first witness was the former Speaker and the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, La’auli.  He claimed that Peseta forged the signature to transfer shares, making him the owner of 50 percent of the shares, with the other 50 percent belonging to Mr. Schwalger. 

Questioned by Leulua’iali’i about how he came to the conclusion, La’auli insisted.

“I said it was Peseta because he was the one who took the document to M.C.I.L (Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour) to change the shares,” he said.

“We also asked Martin if he signed the document and he said it wasn’t him. He said he did not have a meeting (with Peseta) to make the changes. So who would’ve signed the paper’s then since he delivered it to M.C.I.L?”

Leulua’iali’i put it to La’auli that the lawyer for the company, Maiava Visekota Peteru, was the one who prepared the documents signed by Mr. Schwalger. 

She told the Court that La’auli, Apulu and Mr. Schwalger were all present during the meeting held on the 29th May 2013. 

But La’auli denied such meeting took place. 

Moving on to shares, Leulu’aiali’i questioned why the Minister was involved with the company when he was not a legal partner of the company in 2013.  

“I am a representative of Martin Schwalger and the company,” La’auli said.

The defense lawyer questioned the Minister as to why there was no legal agreement disclosed to other shareholders about his relationship with Mr. Schwalger. 

 “Everything was discussed between us and the decision was made,” La’auli said. “They (shareholders) know, they understand and they know… it (the agreement) wasn’t made available because they didn’t ask for it.”

The second witness was Apulu Lance Polu. In his evidence, he told the Court the company used to be called Local Partners. It was later changed to Local Partners and Associates Ltd in 2013 when he came on board. 

“The 35 percent shares was Danny, 32.5percent was me and the other 32.5percent was Martin,” said Apulu. 

“There wasn’t an agreement to change shareholders. I was shocked to find out in September last year that the shareholders were changed with a document that says Peseta owns 50percent shares and the other 50 belongs to Martin.”

According to Apulu, when he found out about the changes, he wrote to M.C.I.L, demanding an explanation. He said the explanation was not clear and did not sound right. 

Lawyer Leulua’iali’i put it to Apulu that the only reason why they have lodged a complaint against Peseta was due to a civil claim being brought by her client against the shareholders. 

But Apulu said he was not aware of the transfer of shares and no such meeting was made to implement the changes. 

Asked to provide evidence that Peseta had forged the documents, Apulu said:

“There was no meeting and Peseta took the document to M.C.I.L. I did not do an investigation but it was based on what Martin told me that he did not sign it and there was no meeting or resolution to make the changes.”

Leulua’iali’I then asked Apulu why he did not query Peseta about the document. 

“I didn’t ask Peseta but I did write to M.C.I.L. for an explanation of the changes in shareholders which was not clear and the process of how it was done was not right,” Apulu responded. 

It was then Mr. Schwalger’s turn to give evidence. 

He told the Court he was contacted by La’auli and Apulu about the document in question where he told them he did not sign it. 

“The signature on the paper is not mine,” said Mr. Schwalger. “The signature looks different from my signature. It looks shorter than my usual writing with the letter C in my last name missing. By looking at the content of the letter I would not throw away this much shares that I worked hard for…I can throw away a piece of bread but not this.”

Mr. Schwalger said he had also heard of a civil claim against the shareholders of the company. 

Leulua’iali’i then asked Mr. Schwalger if he knew who signed the paper if it wasn’t him. In response, he said it could have been Peseta.

But Leulua’iali’i insisted it wasn’t her client. She asked the witness if he had seen Peseta sign the paper.

In response, he said no, he did not see Peseta sign it. 

The lawyer also reminded Mr. Schwalger that he was in the meeting where he had signed the documents in the presence of the lawyer. 

Again, the witness denied this.

He explained that he transferred his shares to La’auli in March 2014 which was done in a meeting with La’auli and Apulu present. 

“We did contact Peseta and Danny but they never come to meetings,” said Mr. Schwalger.

 An employee of M.C.I.L. in the Company registration division, Ivan Leotele, also took the stand yesterday. 

He told the Court that Peseta came to M.C.I.L. with a document requesting to transfer shares from his son Danny to his name.

Mr. Leotele said he explained to Peseta that only the authorised person assigned by the company, who is Maiava Visekota, could make the transfer as she holds the password and username. 

“Peseta then called Visekota whom I spoke with and gave me the username, password and authorisation to make the changes to the shares,” said the employee. 

“The changes were made according to the document where shares of Danny was removed and put under Peseta’s name. La’auli’s name was not on the shareholders (list) or director. At the moment Peseta, Apulu and Martin are the directors.”

Mr. Leotele told the Court that at the moment the shares stand at 50percent Peseta and the other 50percent under Mr. Schwalger and Apulu. 

In her cross examination, lawyer Leulua’iali’I asked the employee if he acted according to his duties to verify the changes from lawyer Maiava. 

“Yes that is correct,” said Mr. Leotele. 

The hearing continues.

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