25 Apr 2020

Former Tongan PM and Noble MP receives suspended sentence

9:26 am on 25 April 2020

A former Tongan Prime Minister and current Noble MP has been received a two year sentence, fully suspended and a fine for passport, perjury and firearm offences.

Siale ʻAtaongo Kaho, Lord Tuʻivakanō

The speaker of Tonga's Parliament Lord Tuʻivakanō. Photo: RNZ/Daniela Maoate-Cox

Matangi Tonga reported Lord Tu'ivakano received the suspended sentence on Friday for the charges relating to the issuance of Tongan passports to Chinese nationals and was fined more than $US1,700 for possession of a firearm and ammunition without a license.

Last month, Tu'ivakano was found him guilty of making a false statement for the purpose of obtaining a passport, perjury and possession of ammunition without a licence.

He had already pled guilty to a fourth count of possession of a gun without a licence.

During sentencing, the Chief Justice took into consideration the potential ramifications of the Land Act, the Constitution and the Companies Act, which meant that an estate holder who was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for more than two years, ceased to hold their title and hereditary estates.

That person would also be not able to hold government office, vote or be elected to parliament.

The prosecution was seeking a starting point of four years imprisonment and had argued the potential ramifications for Tu'ivakano should not influence the sentence.

However, the Lord Chief Justices stated "I consider these matters not as any basis for unequal treatment, but as relevant considerations in ensuring that the impact of the overall sentences to be imposed is not disproportionate to the offending for which the defendant is to be sentenced."

As such, Tu'ivakano will keep his hereditary noble title, estates and parliamentary seat.

The false statement charge related to an incident in July 2015 when, with the purpose of obtaining a passport for Hua Guo and Xing Liu and with intent to deceive Immigration, Tu'ivakano wrote a letter stating that Hua Guo and Xing Liu were naturalised as Tongans in October 2014.

The trial revealed the people naturalised that day were Singkei Lou and Shanoi Kam.

Tu'ivakano accepted the names recorded in the first sentence of his letter were incorrect and the genders of the respective titles were also incorrect.

The perjury charge related to December 2015 when the defendant made an oath in an affidavit, stating that "Mr Hua Guo and Ms Xing Liu were naturalised during my tenure as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Ministry" and "after naturalisation Tongan passports were then issued to these two".

He was found to know those statements were false.

The gun and ammunition charges related to items found during a police search of Tu'ivakano's property in March 2018.

The Crown had previously dropped six charges of bribery and money laundering in relation to the issuance of passports to Chinese nationals.