High Court of New Zealand - Wikiwand
High Court of New Zealand Napier, copyright wikipedia

Samoan chief Joseph Matamata has become the first person to be convicted on charges of both human trafficking and slavery in New Zealand.

Matamata faced ten counts of trafficking and 13 counts of slavery in a five-week trial before the High Court in Napier. The charges stem from activities between 1994-2019 when Matamata systematically enslaved numerous Samoan nationals and imprisoned them on his property for monetary gain.

The court heard statements from the victims, alleging that they were promised work and money to send back to their families to lure them to his property. Matamata would then padlock the gate, restrict the victims’ communication with their families, take their passports, and even assault them failing to comply with his rules. They were then “worked long hours at various locations six days a week, for some occasionally seven.” Matamata retained the majority of the payment for agricultural work, and victims regularly received between “$10 or $20 a week.”

The accused tried to get a reduction in sentence and also the severity by claiming that there was no sexual exploitation, inhuman accommodation, starvation, physical restraint for elongated period of time, subjection to the infliction of serious bodily injury and permanent disfiguration or related death – a matrix of which would justify a start point near or at the maximum penalty. The counsel for the accused also tried to draw the lone case closely related to forced labor reported in New Zealand

However the court did not accept this contention and noted asunder

[50] As I have mentioned, the offending in that case is similar in many ways to your offending, Mr Matamata. In both situations, the defendants (this is you and the other defendant) organised for a significant number of individuals to come to New Zealand from another country to illegally work for you and bring them financial gain.32 In both instances, the victims were particularly vulnerable because of their lack of English and their immigrant status, and they were all completely reliant on the respective defendant to provide them with food, clothing, accommodation and work. …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. [51] In both instances, the victims were either unpaid for that labour or were woefully underpaid and subjected to exploitative conduct and degrading treatment in other ways. In both situations, the victims were reluctant to go to the police or report the defendant, not only because of a practical inability to leave the premises without the defendant’s knowledge, but also because of a deep sense of cultural shame about being “had” in what essentially were organised criminal enterprises. Finally, in both situations, the victims suffered psychological and financial harm as a result of the defendants’ deception and manipulation.

In handing down sentence Monday, Presiding Justice Helen Cull described Matamata’s actions as “abhorrent,” with the youngest victim being only 12 years old. She also said that many of the victims were vulnerable and poorly educated, which provided additional evidence of his intentional exploitation of human labor.

[76] While I accept that your sense of entitlement may be in part be due to Samoan culture and your role of Matai, which is intertwined within the social fabric of the Samoan culture and does not translate easily into New Zealand culture, I do not accept any discount for the cultural position is available. The facts remain that you abused your position of Matai and the trust that was placed in you by the victims and their families. This is repeated in a number of the victim impact statements and I do not consider any discount for cultural values in the context of this offending is appropriate or should be entertained.

Matamata was also ordered to pay $183,000NZ in reparation and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

see the order