Man flees Samoa on false passport despite departure ban

A mother-of-three is demanding answers after immigration authorities allowed her husband to register a passport under a false name and flee Samoa despite being subject to a Departure Prohibition Order. 

Alasa Ropeti says that her legal husband, Ropeti Sione, left for Australia in 2017 despite being banned from leaving the country because of allegedly unpaid child support payments amounting to $900 tala. 

He was able to do so after registering a passport with his photo but in the name of his half-brother, Ioane Felise.   

The Chief Executive Officer of Samoa Immigration, Agafili Shem Leo, confirmed that the department was aware of Mr. Sione's case and that he would face criminal charges for using a faked passport. 

"This individual had knowingly faked his identity and managed to leave the country," Agafili said. 

"When this matter was brought to the attention of Samoa Immigration, an investigation was launched immediately.

"He will face charges under the Immigration Act upon return to Samoa. We are working with our partners to ensure that he is returned to Samoa to face criminal charges.

"[His] application went through the formal passport process but was not picked up by the system when the passport was processed."

Agafili said that Mr. Sione had been located in Australia and after the government had contacted Australian authorities for assistance. 

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"Samoa Immigration is working closely with the Australian authorities together with Samoa High Commission in Canberra for his urgent return to Samoa," he said. 

Mrs. Ropeti said Mr. Sione was first brought before a Savai'i court in 2016 for overdue child support payments and was sent to jail the following year after overdue payments reached $900 tala. 

After striking a deal to be released from jail on the condition he use his freedom to work and repay the child maintenance payments, Mr. Sione left for Australia without repaying the arrears. 

Mrs. Ropeti said Samoa Immigration had reacted too slowly to her complaints about the case.

“It saddens me that my case has prolonged as far as more than a year," she said.

“I spent several times checking with immigration but it was not successful – a month turned into more than a year and close to two.

"Now I am looking for who will be responsible for this."

Mrs. Ropeti said that after initially bringing the matter to the attention of immigration authorities she was told that her husband had evaded detection because Samoa did not yet have the facial recognition technology at its airport. 

Mrs. Ropeti said that Samoa Immigration had required her to raise the matter in Apia, not its Salelologa office.

These delays, she said, left her and her children - a nine-year-old boy, eight-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy - facing financial hardship and living off home-grown produce. 

A request for an interview with Mr. Sione was not returned. 

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