Maintaining the integrity of Police evidence collection

On Monday the Supreme Court accepted an application by the Office of the Attorney General for charges against two former Football Federation of Samoa [F.F.S.] executives to be dropped.

The former F.F.S. President and Chief Executive Officer, Reverend Laupama Solomona and Faumuina Michael Kapisi, were jointly charged with one count of theft as a servant and one count of theft by a person in a special relationship. 

The two former football executives were charged by the Police in May last year which then referred the matter to the Attorney General’s Office. They exited their F.F.S. positions in early 2019, at least three to four months prior to them being charged.

But on Monday the Prosecutor and Attorney General’s Office lawyer, Lucy Sio Ofoia, sought leave from the court for all charges to be withdrawn. The court granted leave and the two men walked free.

No reasons were given by the Prosecutor and Attorney General’s Office for their decision to withdraw the charges, some 15 months after the two former F.F.S. executives were initially taken in for questioning by the Police.

Did the Attorney General’s Office have insufficient evidence that compelled them to seek the leave of the court for the charges to be withdrawn? And if there was insufficient evidence how did the matter progress from a Police investigation to a court hearing only for the charges to be withdrawn on the cusp of trial?

We say this while being cognisant of the important role of the Attorney General’s Office in Samoa, through its upholding of the Constitution and being the custodian of all criminal proceedings in the land.

Though, we are reminded of cases in recent years, where evidence from Police investigations failed to hold up in court and consequently exposing the State to litigation by plaintiffs for malicious prosecution seeking damages.

A $1 million tala lawsuit against the Ministry of Police in 2018 by complainant Suitupe Misa is a case in point. He sued the Police for his unlawful arrest and detention in 2015 in relation to an incident at the Fugalei market, and three years later agreed to an out-of-court settlement with the Government where he was paid an undisclosed amount of money as compensation for his treatment.

And what about the case of the Vietnamese national An Tran Thi who was charged with two counts of being in possession of narcotics [heroine and racemethorphan] and one count of importation of narcotics last year? The narcotics charges were later dropped by the Attorney General’s Office, though two bribery charges were maintained of which she was later found guilty and sentenced by the court. 

Nevertheless was the evidence submitted by the Police in relation to the three narcotics charges inconclusive and could not hold up in court at that time hence the withdrawal of the charges by the Attorney General’s Office? 

Again, just like the matter involving the two former F.F.S. executives, the Attorney General’s Office did not give a reason for withdrawing the three narcotics charges that were made against the Vietnamese national.

Even the recent Supreme Court proceedings involving now resigned Member of Parliament La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao and Associate Minister Peseta Vaifou Tevaga – where 44 charges in relation to the operations of a disputed nonu company were withdrawn by the Attorney General’s Office in July last year – only for La’auli to be cleared of wrongdoing by the court last month in a landmark decision also raises eyebrows and could potentially make the State vulnerable to lawsuits.

There are other cases that go back some five years that are in the same mould, and raise questions about the integrity of the investigations undertaken by the Police and the process involved. 

The key question is what are the preliminary steps of a criminal investigation and at what stage does the Attorney General’s Office become involved to ensure the cases are watertight and the evidence submitted will stand in court?

The recent appointment of Samoa’s new Attorney General in Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, perhaps, provides a perfect opportunity for the Office to review its systems and processes including cases that were discontinued due to shortcomings in evidence disclosure on the part of the Police.

The Police wield a lot of power under the relevant legislation [2007 Police Powers Act] and should enforce and uphold the law in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws including human rights. 

To go astray beyond the confines of the law can change people’s lives and leave irreparable damage on their reputation and professional career. And sadly, there have been instances of lapse in judgement in Samoa on the part of the Police, such as the reliance on flawed evidence which has led to unlawful arrests and detention over the years. 

The public should continue to be alert against such abuse and injustices, but above all, they also expect the Attorney General’s Office to play that role too as one of the custodians of our Constitution.

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