30 Jul 2020

Slavery victims 'ecstatic' at abuser's prison sentence, says INZ

12:23 pm on 30 July 2020

The victims of New Zealand's first convicted slaver and human-trafficker are "ecstatic" to learn their abuser will spend the more than a decade behind bars, Immigration New Zealand says.

Joseph Auga Matamata aka Viliamu Samu in court

Joseph Auga Matamata in court. Photo: RNZ/ Anusha Bradley

The Hastings-based Samoan chief, Joseph Auga Matamata, was sentenced on Monday to 11 years in prison and ordered to pay over $NZ183,000 in reparations to his 13 victims.

It comes as The Samoa Observer reported that some of his victims thought it his punishment was too light.

But immigration officials who worked closely with his victims during the three-year investigation told RNZ that was not the feedback they had.

"They were ecstatic to be honest. They were relieved it's over as it's been a long and harrowing ordeal for them," said Immigration New Zealand investigations manager Carl Knight.

Over 25 years, Matamata lured his victims to New Zealand with the promise of lucrative work or schooling.

But when they arrived, they worked long hours without pay in the fields around Hastings and in Matamata's home, where they were often beaten and verbally abused.

The case only came to light in 2017 after two men fled Matamata's home and went to the police, sparking a three-year international multi-agency investigation that uncovered a web of offending spanning more than two decades.

His victims suffered an extensive shame when they returned home empty handed, because they were supposed to have earned money for their families and their villages, Knight said.

"These people had to go back to their villages in utter shame without any money whatsoever.

"They tried to explain... but it didn't mean anything because they just weren't believed. It put not only them, but their families, in a whole lot of despair... sometimes for years," he said.

Matamata held the chiefly title of a Matai, which meant he was revered by his workers who trusted him and obeyed him completely.

The $183,000 reparation, paid by Matamata after the Crown forfeited half his Hastings property, will be "life changing" for his victims, Knight said.

The case has also led to further training for front line Immigration staff to try to identify potential trafficking.

Eleven of the Samoans came to New Zealand on holiday visas issued there that were arranged by Matamata or his associates, while two teenagers were adopted by him in the months before they arrived.

The agency was also working closely with other government agencies, migrant communities and business to raise awareness of such crimes, Immigration New Zealand national investigations manager Cam Moore said.

"As education and awareness and a number of inter-governmental initiatives move forward, that might give rise to further potential disclosures of this type of offending."

Immigration New Zealand would not be drawn on whether they were happy with the sentence handed down to Matamata.

Matamata's lawyer have said he is considering his options, but both the prosecution and defence have 28 days to file an appeal against the conviction or sentencing.

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