Samoan human trafficker jailed 11 years

A Samoan man accused in New Zealand’s first case of human trafficking and slavery, Joseph Auga Matamata, has been sentenced to 11 years in prison and ordered to pay NZ$183,000 in reparations to his victims.

Matamata was sentenced in the Napier High Court on Monday for taking 13 Samoans to Hastings over the last 25 years and overworking them for little to no pay.  He was found guilty of 10 charges in human trafficking and 13 charges in dealing in slaves, and acquitted of one trafficking charge.

In June, the Crown seized Matamata’s property to pay his victims reparations: half of his property including shares in Hastings homes. 

Between 1994 and 2019, Matamata took Samoans to New Zealand for horticultural work, where they instead worked 14-hour days, seven days a week doing chores for Matamata in his home. They were physically abused if they disobeyed.

His jurors took seven-and-a-half hours to decide on the guilty verdict.

At his five-week trial he denied criminal activity, telling the judge “there's no rule.”

INZ General Manager of Verification and Compliance, Stephen Vaughan, says the prison sentence recognises Matamata’s actions and behaviour were abhorrent and went against all basic human decency.

“His breaches of trust, physical abuse, and flagrant disregard for the well-being of people he was purporting to help were unconscionable and must be condemned”,  Mr. Vaughan said in a statement.

Detective Inspector Mike Foster, Eastern District Police says the case was one of the most complex joint investigations undertaken by Police and INZ, and the result is testament to the shared determination to see justice done for Matamata’s victims.

“Police, along with INZ, are committed to investigating human trafficking and slavery, supporting victims and making sure those responsible face justice, and are prevented from doing further harm”, says Detective Inspector Foster.

Both INZ and NZ Police want to thank Samoan authorities for their help and co-operation. Both agencies also wish to commend Matamata’s victims for the part they played in bringing him to justice and holding him to account.

“Their bravery and support were vital to securing these convictions. We know it was difficult for them over what was a protracted investigation and a lengthy trial. Their decision to take a stand and share details about what they went through was the key to securing these convictions, says Mr Vaughan.

Detective Inspector Foster says they’re keen to target this sort of offending and encourages anyone aware of such activities to get in touch with authorities.

“Police and INZ will continue to investigate and respond to any allegations of this abhorrent crime”, he says.

When Matamata, also known as Viliamu Samu, was charged back in March, a survivor of his abuse Falaniga Falaniko thanked God for some justice.

“All thanks and glory to God for answering our prayers, he's been doing this dirty work for more than 15 years and he is the only one benefiting from the hard work and sweat of the people whom he enslaved,” she said. 

“His family has big houses and changes vehicles here and then, but my niece and nephew never got a single cent from the time they were with him.”

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