Businessman appeals guilty verdict

A businessman, who was found guilty of operating an unlicensed fish processing plant for sea cucumbers intended for export, is appealing the decision against him.

Chen Pao was found guilty in the District Court this year, after a raid in 2016 where the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries found, more than 400 kgs of sea cucumbers at his premises.

His lawyer, Semi Leung Wai, appeared before the Supreme Court this week to schedule a date for Mr. Pao’s appeal.

Justice Leiataualesa Daryl Clarke set the matter for appeal on 29 June 2020. 

Mr. Pao was forced to appear in the Supreme Court earlier this month, after a warrant of arrest was issued by the District Court, when he did not make an appearance on the day of his verdict. 

His lawyer, Mr. Leung Wai, explained to the Court that his client did not appear because the matter was pending in the District Court and that there had been no verdict for three years.

He added that his client was overseas when his verdict was delivered.

That warrant has been dismissed by the Court pending the appeal. 

Mr. Pao faced two charges before the District Court for allegedly processing sea cucumbers at Fugalei and Savalalo for export, and operating the fish processing plant without a license. 

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. 

According to the background of the case, on 2 February 2016 the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and Maritime Unit of the Ministry of Police conducted a search operation for sea cucumber at the Treasure Garden Restaurant and Hotel at Fugalei and Savalalo. 

The operation followed an Investigation by the Division into a complaint received by the M.A.F. alleging the processing of sea cucumbers at both locations. 

The operation discovered and seized a large quantities of sea cucumbers at Mr. Pao’s premises. 

The seizure included 11 chilly bins and five boxes of dried sea cucumbers, a large green rubbish bin, and bucket full that had not been fully dried. 

The chilly bins weight a significant 431 kg, not including a sack and a large basin of species which the fisheries officer considered small scale in size. 

Evidence before the Court showed that most sea cucumbers had been fully processed and were carefully packed and stored. 

On the charge of processing and exporting sea cucumbers, Judge Fepuleai Ameperosa Roma in his verdict said he is inclined to adopt the submission from prosecution that the sea cucumber was for exporting purposes. 

“There was a significant amount of sea cucumbers found on the accused premises and different phases of processing,” said Judge Fepuleai. 

“It is not disputed that sea cucumbers are a popular delicacy amongst Asians. 

“But despite the large quantities seized the accused says that the only use was in the form of ingredients for a meal that is sold at the restaurant at $90 per dish and sold to some of their Chinese customers only.”

The Judge said he did not find that part of the statement from Mr. Pao reliable. 

“I find that given the quantities collected and processed are significantly huge, compared to a demand needed for a meal that were available to only some of the Chinese customers,” he explained. 

“The packaging as explained by the accused was to prevent the sea cucumbers from moist and preserve its quality. 

“There is no evidence that the processed sea cucumbers were being sold locally and the only reasonable inference that the Court can draw is that the sea cucumber found on the accused’s premises were for export purposes.”

The Judge said this element of the charge has been proven by prosecution. 

 “The undisputed evidence is that at Savalalo and Fugalei a large quantity of sea cucumbers were boiled, salted and dried,” he said. 

“Some were frozen and most were carefully wrapped in plastic bags then packed in boxes and chilly bins…For the reasons I find that the accused processed sea cucumbers for sale outside of Samoa.”

At the time when he delivered the verdict, Judge Fepuleai issued the warrant of arrest for Mr. Pao, when he did not appear in Court earlier this year. 

“The advice by counsel is that he is currently overseas,” he said. 

“Counsel is also unaware that he had travelled and no application was ever made by the accused for leave of jurisdiction. 

“A warrant of arrest is issued for his non-appearance and he is ordered that the accused return and execution of the warrant, he is to remain in custody…”

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