Samoan chief guilty of slavery in New Zealand

  • Published
Joseph Auga Matamata at an earlier court hearing
Image caption,
Matamata faces up to 20 years in jail or a fine of nearly US$300,000

A court in New Zealand has found a Samoan-born chief guilty of more than 20 charges of dealing in slaves and human trafficking.

Joseph Auga Matamata, 65, was convicted of offences over a 25-year period.

His victims, who were all Samoan, were too scared to alert the authorities because of his status as a matai or chief, the court heard.

Each of the 13 slavery charges on which he was convicted carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

Matamata faces up to 20 years in jail or a fine of nearly US$300,000 for the human-trafficking convictions. Sentencing will take place on 6 May.

Matamata, a horticultural contractor, was convicted of 10 counts of trafficking and 13 counts of slavery which took place between 1994 and 2019.

He had promised his 13 Samoan victims, the youngest of whom was 12, a better life, the prosecution told the High Court in Napier, where the five-week trial was held.

Most came on three-month holiday visas and some ended up staying for years. They worked long hours for no pay and were often beaten.

He promised them "big money" by Samoan standards but ended up taking the cash they earned at orchards and other work sites, prosecutors said.

It is the first time someone has been charged with both slavery and human trafficking in New Zealand.