27 Jul 2020

Joseph Auga Matamata sentenced to 11 years for human trafficking and slavery

3:27 pm on 27 July 2020

A man convicted of human trafficking and slavery has been sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Joseph Auga Matamata aka Viliamu Samu in court

Joseph Auga Matamata at the High Court in Napier earlier this year (file photo). Photo: RNZ/ Anusha Bradley

Joseph Auga Matamata, the first person to be convicted of both human trafficking and slavery in New Zealand, appeared at Napier High Court this morning.

Matamata also had to pay reparations of about $183,000 to the victims.

Sentencing the work contractor, Justice Helen Cull said his offending was "abhorrent" and created a "climate of fear and intimidation".

"The victims were told they could earn significant income by Samoan standards, which they would be able to send back to their families.

"Once in New Zealand, these Samoan nationals were exploited by you for your own and for your family's financial gain.

"You assaulted them ... it included assaults with objects and assaults to the head. Some of those assaults caused injury and scarring. This instilled fear in the victims and ensured their compliance with your wishes."

He had brought 13 Samoan workers to Hastings between 1994 and April 2019 for horticultural work. They sometimes worked 14-hour days, seven days a week, without pay, the court was told during the trial earlier this year.

After work they were forced to complete chores at Matamata's home late into the night and would get beaten if his rules were disobeyed.

The oldest victim was in his 50s and the youngest was just 12.

Matamata was found guilty of 10 charges in human trafficking and 13 charges in dealing in slaves, and acquitted of one trafficking charge.

At his five-week trial he denied any wrongdoing, and denied keeping them in his house, saying "there's no rule".

"Their own way of talking ... I've got no rules in my house, everybody's same, everybody do [sic] what they want to do, go out, go to the shop, anywhere, I don't stop them."

But the jurors disagreed, taking seven-and-a-half hours to deliver the verdict.

Last month, the Crown seized half of Matamata's property, including shares in homes in Camberley, Hastings, to put towards the reparations.

Matamata sat quietly at the back of the courtroom between two guards, showing no emotion.

No victims were in court, but Crown prosecutor Clayton Walker read some of them in court. The victims' names are suppressed.

"The dream of providing a better future for a person's family is not just unique to me, it is a dream shared by the majority of the people in Samoa. It is also human nature to want to see your family prosper no matter who you are.

"For some reason [Matamata] has forgotten the struggles in Samoa. He has taken our dreams and lied to us about becoming prosperous and has advanced his own status in New Zealand by owning houses and cars through pure greed. His status was founded on the hard work and sweat of those including me that he has exploited. He has shattered our dreams."

While Matamata serves his sentence, he will undergo a rehabilitation programme to address his violence. Justice Cull did not give a minimum non-parole term.

Immigration New Zealand general manager of verification and compliance Stephen Vaughan said the prison sentence recognised Matamata's went against all basic human decency and thanked the victims.

"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," he said.

Eastern District Police Detective Inspector Mike Foster said 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", he said.

Matamata's lawyer Roger Philip said his client was "pretty disappointed" in the conviction.

"He will now reflect on the sentence that's been imposed on him. He will take some time to consider his legal options and obviously get legal advice on whether he wishes to challenge the conviction and the sentence."

He would not say if an appeal was likely.

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