Suspended lawyer denied request to leave country

The Supreme Court has denied a request by a suspended lawyer, Tafaogalupe Pa’u Mulitalo, to leave the country to attend a job interview in Wellington, New Zealand. 

The decision was handed down by Justice Leiataualesa Daryl Clarke on Wednesday afternoon.

The suspended lawyer is currently facing charges of obtaining by deception and theft. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

The matter before the Supreme Court is scheduled for a retrial in January next year.  

In his decision, Justice Leiataualesa said if Tafaogalupe is successful in his job interview with a N.Z. government Ministry, there is a risk that he might not return to Samoa. 

“In my view on the material before the Court, there is a risk of the accused not returning to Samoa,” he said. 

“This view has not been mitigated by the absence of a returned ticket to Samoa but is designed to remain in New Zealand irrespective of the outcome of the job interview and by the failure of the accused to fully disclose his personal circumstance with respect of his employer.” 

Justice Leiataualesa said Tafaogalupe was asked if he had disclosed to his potential future employer in New Zealand his personal circumstances. 

These circumstances include the accused facing criminal charges and his suspension by the Samoa Law Society. 

“In response to this question from the Court, he says he has plans to make that disclosure at the interview and also plans to make a copy,” said Justice Leiataualesa.

“In circumstances where such disclosure in my view is relevant to the application to a role of solicitor senior within a New Zealand government ministry, that disclosure should have been upfront as part of [job] application that would circumvent the application to leave the jurisdiction…”

Justice Leiataualesa added that he also has doubts that given the status of the accused’s legal practice in Samoa, he would be able to obtain a practice certificate in New Zealand, pending the matters before the Court. 

In making his application to vary his bail conditions, Tafaogalupe had told the Court that he was granted the application by former Chief Justice Patu Tiava’asue Falefatu Sapolu. 

But Justice Leiataualesa said the accused could not give clear details on when it was granted and only referred to “a month ago or a while ago”. 

The Judge said Justice Patu did not preside on any cases a month ago and prosecution has no records on their file about the claim from the accused. 

Tafaogalupe was due to have his interview with a N.Z. government ministry on Friday this week. 

He filed the application to vary his bail conditions to leave the country to attend to the interview on Monday this week. 

The suspended lawyer did not disclose to the Court which government ministry in New Zealand that he got accepted for an interview. 

Attorney General’s Office and prosecutor, Ann Matalasi, opposed the application. 

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