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Samoan chief Joseph Auga Matamata found guilty of human trafficking and slavery charges

A Hastings-based Samoan chief has been found guilty of 10 charges in human trafficking and 13 charges in dealing with slaves.

Joseph Auga Matamata, 65, was acquitted on one charge of trafficking.

The jury of five men and six women took seven-and-a-half hours to reach the verdict.

Matamata stood silent in the dock as the verdicts were readout.

His offending is related to 13 Samoan nationals that he arranged to bring to New Zealand in small groups between 1994 and April last year.

All of his victims, except three teenagers who were adopted by Matamata in 2016, came to New Zealand on three-month holiday visas. Some ended up staying for years, working long hours for Matamata for no pay.

During the five-week trial at the High Court in Napier, before Justice Cull, the Crown argued Matamata used threats, violence and strict rules to control the complainants. The defense said there was no pattern of such behavior and the evidence against the accused did not stack up.

The court heard Matamata promised his victims paid horticulture work or schooling in Hawke's Bay. He promised them a "better life", Crown prosecutor Clayton Walker said.

But upon arrival, they worked long hours - sometimes 14 hours a day in the fields, for seven days a week - and did not get paid. After work, they had to complete chores at Matamata's home late into the evening and were subject to regular beatings if his strict rules - including not being about to speak to their families in Samoa or leave his Hastings home without permission - were not adhered to.

In his closing address on Monday, Matamata's lawyer Roger Philip said there was no pattern of behavior to suggest the complainant's allegations were true.

"If he was a slave master, as suggested by the prosecutor, why would it be that these men be allowed to go and play rugby, attend sport, go and share meals with other guests who came to the house, walk the streets, buy alcohol, take a vehicle to work without Mr Matamata."

His client denied allegations of physical abuse and he said the complainants motivation appeared to be about money, Philip told the court.


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