Joseph Auga Matamata is a New Zealand based Samoan chief. The 65-year-old was found guilty by the High Court, Napier. He was accused of illegally trafficking Samoan nationals to New Zealand for 25 years. The victims were subject to forced labor and slavery.
Matamata illegally bought relatives from his village in Samoa to New Zealand. The workers were promised wages but received nothing. The Samoan nationals were exploited and forced to work for Matamata’s financial gains in the Horticulture industry. The victims were bound on a farm with a tall fence and locked gate. Communicate was forbidden with each other or with the outside world. Matamata faces ten counts of trafficking and 13 counts of slavery.
The victim statements alleged that they were promised work and money to lure them into his property. The victims were assaulted and made to work for long hours.
The Crown appealed to the jury to look at the offenses as two sides of the same coin. Matamata trafficked the victims into New Zealand and then exploited them for labor through slavery. It was argued that Matamata trafficked people for 25 years. He did so for his monetary gains.
Matamata’s counsel argued based on Cultural discount for prison time. The Samoan Culture holds the ‘Matai’ or the head of the family to be the leader of the family. The decisions of the Matai are not to be questioned and are to be assumed to be taken in the best interests of the family. The counsel submitted that the decisions of the defendant were motivated by his Samoan culture rather than the conceptual understanding of the interests of the victims.
The New Zealand legislation holds human trafficking to be one of the most severe offenses. The maximum penalty for this crime is 20 years imprisonment. There is a concept of the Minimum Period of Imprisonment (MPI) before eligibility to apply for parole. The MPI is usually 50% of the prison time. Severe crimes are generally given an MPI as an added restriction. The court, in this case, did not provide for an MPI.
Justice Helen Cull presided the court. The court discussed the sentencing goals to be denunciation and deterrence. The crimes of human trafficking and slavery are abhorrent crimes with one of the victims being just 12 years old. The court was in the opinion that the exploitation of fellow human beings is unacceptable. The International Obligation of the nation in eradicating these crimes was an essential factor.
The Court ordered Matamata to pay $183,000NZ and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. The Court also held that Matamata is to undergo the Medium Intensity Rehabilitation program. This was because of the transformational system to address his mental state towards violence.
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