Associate Minister denies being a "disruptive force"

The Associate Minister of the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga, has denied claims he was a “disruptive force” in the struggling nonu company registered under the name Local Partners and Associates. 

Peseta issued the denial in the Supreme Court yesterday when he was responding to queries from the defense counsel that he was dismissive of ideas suggested to him to attract business for L.P.A. 

Defense lawyer, Aaron Perkins, was cross examining the Associate Minister on the third day of the trial into the business activities and relationship of the L.P.A. Directors. 

Former Cabinet Minister, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao, his wife Heather Schmidt, business associates Apulu Lance Polu, Martin Schwalger and Tuitui Aiolupo are facing 234 charges that include forgery, theft, obtaining by deception among others.

Acting Chief Justice, His Honour Vui Clarence Nelson, is presiding.

New Zealand Manukau Crown Law Solicitor lawyer Mark Stephen and co-counsel Kristy Sisi Li assisted by Attorney General’s lawyer Quentin Sauaga are the prosecutors.  Queens Counsels Kieran Raftery represented La’auli and Aaron John Frank Perkins acted on behalf of Apulu. 

Lawyer Tauiliili Harry Schuster represented Schwalger, Mrs. Schmidt and Aiolupo.  

During cross examination, Mr. Perkins put it to Peseta that his suspicion and conduct was bringing the business to a standstill. 

“I put it to you that you were nothing but a disruptive force to the L.P.A. company that was struggling to secure clients in 2013 to 2014," Mr. Perkins said. 

In denying this, Peseta replied that he had tried to ensure the Directors can work together and was mainly concerned about his land. 

He explained he was very concerned about his business land that was used to secure the $1.8 million loan from Samoa National Provident Fund.

Mr. Perkins told Peseta that at no time did he personally contributed to the monthly payment of the $1.8 million tala loan from N.P.F. 

The lawyer then showed Peseta bank statements that showed L.P.A. was up to date with its payments despite the arrears. 

Peseta said yes there were consistent payment made for the loan and did not contribute personally to the loan. 

The Court heard that there were three technical staff of Pure Pasifika that were retained by L.P.A. for their technical knowledge. 

This is considering that L.P.A. was dealing with food processing and the workers had to be certified.

Apart from the technical staff wages, L.P.A. was also paying costs to maintain the factory and replacement machineries as well as new tiles for the factory to comply with health requirements. 

Peseta agreed that these costs had to be paid including maintenance for trucks, and its expensive to operate the company.  

In addition, Peseta denied any knowledge of Mrs. Schmidt helping out at the L.P.A. office as well as Aiolupo because there were no office workers. 

He can only recall seeing Mrs. Schmidt at the factory and was not aware of Aiolupo until the day of the trial. 

Furthermore, Mr. Perkins also made reference to several documents and bank statements which indicated that L.P.A. did not have any finances at the time. 

The lawyer cited another exhibit which noted that Peseta had signed more than thirty cheques from the cheque book in which he was the main signatory. 

In response, Peseta denied signing the cheques.

He said he is only aware of about three cheques he signed. He challenged the lawyer to present copies of the cheques in Court to prove that he did sign the cheques. 

“I say this before God that this is not correct and unless you get those cheques from the bank to prove it,” said Peseta. 

But Mr. Perkins told the Associate Minister that he was not telling the truth about the cheques that he had signed. 

Again, Peseta denied this, insisting to present proof of the cheques from the bank that he had signed. 

Moving on to the trucks of the company, Mr. Perkins asked Peseta if he had sold a truck belonging to L.P.A. 

After denying this twice when he was asked, Peseta then said he does recall a truck that was given to former Cabinet Minister, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga, for the purpose of collecting nonu juice from his constituency. 

He added this was agreed to by the Directors of L.P.A. 

The truck was returned to the company after plans to collect nonu from the Minister’s constituency did not eventuate. 

The Court heard that Peseta was also in possession of a dyan truck, his son Leiataua Danny Schwenke was given a Pajero vehicle and Apulu Lance Polu was given a Nissan for personal use. 

The Associate Minister maintained the truck in his possession was only used to transport boxes of tinned fish for fa’alavelave. 

When Peseta continuously raised  suspicions with L.P.A. on its cheque book and assets of the company, Mr. Perkins then asked him why he did not go to La’auli and talked to him as he was his trusted friend. 

Mr. Perkins asked the Associate Minister why he did not pick up the phone and called La’auli.

He said Peseta instead went to L.P.A. clients asking questions about cheques paid to the company and orders. 

“He was your trusted friend and business partner. It's possible there was a good reason why the barrels were at his compound so why didn’t you go to talk to him?” the lawyer asked. 

In response, Peseta said it did not cross his mind to call La’auli.

He wanted to check the company shares with the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour. 

Furthermore, he said that he had talked to Apulu and Schwalger and believes that they are representatives of La’auli. 

Mr. Perkins then queries Peseta if he was not concerned about the credibility of L.P.A. and its reputation when he started asking questions about the business to clients instead of asking the Directors. 

In response, the M.P. said he is a businessman and he does not feel his visit to the clients had any impact on the reputation of L.P.A. 

When the lawyer cross examined Peseta about trusting Apulu, he insisted he could not talk to the Directors because he was prohibited from entering the L.P.A. compound. 

“I was charged and arrested because of a complaint from La’auli, Martin and Apulu that I had forged a resolution,” said Peseta. 

But Mr. Perkins reminded the M.P. to answer the question.

The lawyer asked Peseta if he had talked to La’auli about not trusting Apulu. 

Peseta reverted back to the event where he was denied access to the L.P.A. compound at Vaitele. 

The lawyer had asked Peseta several times about talking to La’auli about not trusting Apulu. 

In response, he continued to say he had raised issues pertaining to the accounts of the company and L.P.A. trucks in several meetings. 

Mr. Perkins then put it to Peseta that La’auli had tried to persuade him in a meeting that he was worrying unnecessarily about Apulu. 

The lawyer added that in the same meeting, La’auli had discussed with Peseta the need to use a trading name that links to nonu and suggested Samoa Nonu Delights as the company was struggling to secure clients. 

“You were dismissive of the idea and you had walked away,” said Mr. Perkins. 

In response, Peseta said he did not accept that suggestion to change the name. 

When the lawyer asked Peseta again to clarify his answer on the use of Samoa Nonu Delights name, Peseta then changed his answer again. 

The Associate Minister said his correct answer is La’auli never raised the use of Samoa Nonu Delights in any of their conversation. 

When queried about La’auli asking for Samoa Breweries to use one of the trucks as the trucks were sitting their idle, Peseta said he does not recall being asked.

In questioning Peseta about changing the locks to the L.P.A. office and compound, Mr. Perkins put it to him that he was trying to keep La’auli, Apulu and others away from the company. 

Peseta said he was not given the right keys to the compound and factory hence why he had contacted someone to change the locks to the office and the factory. 

Lastly, Mr. Perkins queried Peseta on the change of shares to L.P.A. where he held 50 percent. 

The lawyer had asked if La’auli, Apulu and Schwalger had not asked any questions about giving up shares for him allowing him to change shares from 35 percent to 50 percent. 

In response, Peseta said no they said it was up to him. 

But Mr. Perkins insisted if he is saying that there was no debate from the Directors about him having 50 percent shares. 

After being asked several times about what La’auli had said in the meeting, where his shares were changed from 35 to 50 percent, Peseta reiterated that La’auli and others had nothing to say about it. 

Peseta added that in the meeting with the lawyer, Maiava Visekota Peteru, La’auli had said it was up to him. 

But Mr. Perkins reminded Peseta that he is not talking about the meeting with the lawyer and he knows very well he is talking about the meeting with La’auli, Apulu and Schwalger that he said his shares were changed. 

Again Peseta kept referring to the meeting with the lawyer and the meeting with the Directors.

He concluded there was no debate and the Directors were happy to give up their shares for him after explaining to them about his land and that he should be the major shareholder. 

Cross examination for Peseta concluded Thursday evening. 

Prosecution will call their second witness today for the six weeks long trial. 

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