Ex-Immigration Official jailed for passport sale, corruption and bribery

A former Immigration Officer, David Nomeneta Uaine, has been jailed for four years in connection to the sale of Samoan passports to non-Samoans.

The sentencing of the 28-year-old male of Tuana’i was delivered by Supreme Court Judge, Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala–Warren. He was convicted of numerous charges including corruption, forgery and using false documents.

“It is unfortunate that someone so young and so promising has committed such serious offences, will have convictions for serious offences and will be serving a custodial sentence,” Justice Tafaoimalo said.

“He is obviously someone who is valued by his family, village, church and friends.”

Uaine was found guilty of 28 charges; six charges of forgery, four charges of corruption and bribing an official, six counts of using forged documents, four counts of forged and false Samoan travel documents, and four counts of certifying false application for travel document.

For the six forgery charges, Uaine was convicted and sentenced to four years, three years for corruption and bribery, three years for forged document offences, 12 months for forged and false Samoan travel documents. In addition, Uaine has been convicted and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for improper issue of Samoan travel document, 12 months for certifying false application for travel documents charges. All sentences will be served concurrently.

Uaine was represented by lawyer, Unasa Iuni Sapolu while Lucy Sio Ofoia of the Attorney General’s office was the prosecutor.

Having taken into account the aggravating features of the offending, Justice Tafaoimalo said there will be no mitigating features. She took six years imprisonment as a starting point.

“For his apology to the A.C.E.O. which shows remorse, his expression of remorse to probation and through defence counsel which I believe is genuine, I deduct 10 months,” she said.

“For his personal circumstances and the testimonials in favour of his character, I deduct 12 months. This leaves four years and two months.

“I have decided to deduct a further two months for leniency and compassion.”

The Supreme Court Judge took into consideration that the accused was a young man who made a mistake, which he is facing the consequences.

“It is unfortunate that someone so young and so promising has committed such serious offences, will have convictions for serious offences and will be serving a custodial sentence,” she told the Court.

“He is obviously someone who is valued by his family, village, church and friends.

“It is important that I also have a starting point for the corruption and bribery charges as the benchmark found in Samoan cases, does not provide for multiple offending like the present case.  This case is distinguished on the basis of multiple offending of a public official, which has not previously come before the Court.

“The starting point in this case is five years imprisonment given the aggravating factors.

“I deduct 10 months for his remorse, 12 months for his personal circumstances and testimonials in his favour, and two months for leniency and compassion.

“That leaves three years imprisonment.”

According to Justice Tafaoimalo, the maximum penalty for corruption and bribery of an official is far too low being seven years imprisonment.

She pointed out that public interest demands that this type of offending, which erodes public confidence in government institutions will be met with heavier penalties.

“The culpability of the accused is high given that he undertook not only all the seven stages of the issuance of passports, but the filling in, certification and submission of the 6 applications,” said Justice Tafaoimalo.

The planning and sophistication involved was high.  

“I agree with prosecution that his level of criminality is high, justifying a higher starting point than the local case authorities they have cited.

“The sentence should hold the accused accountable for his offending; promote in him a sense of responsibility for the harm that he has caused, to provide for the interests for Immigration; to denounce his conduct; and also to deter him and others from committing similar offences in the future.”

In saying that, Justice Tafaoimalo said it must be noted that the TARDIS system used by Immigration for the issuance of Samoan passport has been revealed to be fallible and insecure in several aspects.

“The ease with which one person can carry out the whole process of issuing a Samoan passport, when in theory, three or more people should be involved is a major cause for concern and is an issue that Immigration should address,” she said.

“This accused was a relatively new employee who may not have been given adequate supervision but was given too much leeway to carry out the offending.

“Tighter security measures around the TARDIS system is encouraged within Immigration for the issuance of passports.”

She added with multiple offences in this case the total end sentence must reflect the totality of the accused’s offending.

“It is difficult to neatly separate the charges as they all formed part of a sophisticated scheme of submitting applications and issuing Samoan passports to non-Samoans.”

Uaine allegedly lodged and processed applications for Samoan passports for non-Samoans when he was an Assistant Immigration Officer from 2016–2017.

The passports were issued in the names of Dave Afele Allen, Mark Filo, Franco Fitu Rudolph, Miriama Kaba Hugo, Antoinette Lima Moafanua and Janet Sayo Hugo.

It was alleged that out of the six applications, five were "successful" and resulted in Samoan passports being issued.

There was also the allegation that he received money for the Samoan passports.

The applicants were not eligible for Samoan passports since their birth certificates were not genuine.

In a victim’s impact report prepared by the Assistant Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet (M.P.M.C.), Valavala Siaopo Pese, the offending has been negative on the Immigration and has affected the trust of the country in the Samoa’s passport issuance system.

The Court heard that the offending has tainted the good reputation of Samoa and the fact that it was one of the first countries in the region to implement an electronic passport issuance system.

“The integrity of the Immigration process has been impacted negatively and has reduced the level of trust that the public has in the services provided by Immigration, in particular the issuance of passports,” says Valavala in the victim’s impact report.

“The Immigration staff have been accused of being the most corrupt public servants in Samoa. The offending involved a great deal of dishonesty, and misuse of power and authority.

“It has led Immigration to consider a merger between two systems used in the process of passports and permits.

“This will entail extra costs in addition to the current annual costs of SAT$100,000 for support and maintenance.”

Justice Tafaoimalo outlined several aggravating features of the offending by Uaine.

It includes; it has affected the integrity of Samoa’s passport system, it has affected the reputation of Samoa’s Immigration Division within and outside of Samoa, the offending was premeditated having been carried out over a period of six months and involving six false passports, the offending was sophisticated, deliberate and measured.

Consequently the offending is by a public servant entrusted to represent the government of Samoa in the process of issuing passports to Samoan citizens.

“The offending was an abuse of the authority which he had to be part of the process of issuance of Samoan passports,” said Justice Tafaoimalo.

“He offended for personal gain in the form of money sent to him from overseas, which although not significant amounts, went to him personally and he committed 28 offences.”

The mitigating factor for Uaine is that he apologised to A.C.E.O. Valavala, showing remorse.  The sale of passports was brought to the attention of the Immigration Office by the Samoa Observer back in September 2017.

It led to the government launching an investigation into allegations that someone was “selling Samoan passports” online at the time.

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