Charge against ex-M.E.S.C. official dismissed
A former principal officer at the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture accused of stealing roofing iron from his employer has walked away without a charge.
Si’a Alec Latu was facing one count of theft as a servant for allegedly stealing 20 pieces of roofing iron, intended for repair work at the National Library in the lead up to the Pacific Games in 2019.
Represented by lawyer Afamasaga Michael So’onalole the defendant entered a not guilty plea.
Following a one-day trial last week, Acting Chief Justice, Her Honour Niava Mata Tuatagaloa concluded that the defendant is innocent.
She dismissed the charge against Si’a and ruled that the prosecution fell short in proving that the defendant had an intention to permanently deprive the M.E.S.C. of the roofing iron.
The charge of theft as a servant was dismissed.
Attorney General’s Office lawyer, Veiuto Faasii was the prosecutor.
The evidence before the court was that the 20 roofing iron sheets were at the defendant's residence, piled up on a scaffold at the back of his house.
The roofing iron, according to witnesses, were in very good condition and did not look to have been used at all.
All were recovered in the same condition that they were taken and returned to M.E.S.C.’s compound in Malifa.
“I accept the evidence of the two maintenance officers Petaia Salamo and Enesi Leiataua as to the condition of the container,” said Justice Niava.
The witnesses testified that the container was damaged and had no floor.
Justice Niava said she prefers the evidence of Petaia and Enesi over the evidence of M.E.S.C. Internal Auditor Sam Fruean who told the court the container was in good condition, although it no longer had a floor.
“I also accept their evidence that roofing irons were taken to the defendant’s house for storage and safekeeping because according to their discussions with the defendant, the container was no longer safe to keep their tools, equipment and materials to be used,” she concluded.
“The investigation by the Internal Auditor of M.E.S.C. Sam Fruean was to locate the whereabouts of the missing roofing irons.
“The findings of this audit investigation is not conclusive of the criminal charge before the Court. The Audit Report says nothing of the defendant’s intention for the removal of the roofing irons to his house.”
The court also found in favour of the defendant that he gave the instruction for the removal of the roofing iron to his house during work hours, in broad daylight and using a M.E.S.C. Dyna vehicle.
The Acting Chief Justice posed the question: why would you have the materials removed in broad daylight in everyone’s view if the intention is to steal it?
Si’a did not give evidence and was presumed innocent until proven guilty.
In relation to the prosecution’s case, Justice Niava said they had to prove the elements of the charge beyond reasonable doubt and they fell short.
“Apart from the prosecution failing to prove the mens rea element of the offence beyond reasonable doubt, the prosecution has failed in the most basic of elements of any criminal charge, identification of defendant in court,” she pointed out.
“The prosecution had only asked the witnesses Petaia Salamo and Aliu Maua [to identify] who the person is that instructed them to take the roofing irons, to which they responded Si’a, but she failed to ask them if such person is in court.
“None of the prosecution witnesses who gave evidence physically identified the defendant in court.”
Furthermore she said identification of the defendant was not raised as an issue but this did not mean that the prosecution relaxes from identifying the defendant in court.
“They carry the burden of proof which they must do so beyond reasonable doubt, which includes the identity of the defendant,” said Justice Niava.
“The charge is also dismissed for the failure of the prosecution to physically identify the defendant in court.”