Jul 27, 2020 @ 21:14

Samoan chief jailed in New Zealand over slavery racket

A Samoan chieftain living in New Zealand was jailed for 11 years Monday over an “abhorrent” slavery racket that exploited workers from his Pacific homeland over a 25 year period.

Joseph Matamata lured workers to New Zealand with promises of generous pay but beat them once they arrived, forcing them into unpaid labour on farms and in his home, Immigration New Zealand said.

During his trial, prosecutors said Matamata’s offences were exacerbated by the fact that the 66-year-old held the chiefly title of matai in Samoa, making him someone his compatriots trusted and looked up to.

“Matamata’s actions and behaviour were abhorrent and went against all basic human decency,” Immigration New Zealand’s compliance chief Stephen Vaughan said.

“His breaches of trust, physical abuse, and blatant disregard for the well-being of people he was purporting to help were unconscionable and must be condemned.”

Matamata was found guilty of 13 slavery charges and 10 of human trafficking in May after a five-week trial.

He was handed an 11-year jail term Monday and ordered to pay NZ$183,000 (US$122,000) in reparations to his 13 victims, the youngest of whom was aged just 12.

New Zealand regularly allows in workers from the Pacific Islands to carry out seasonal labour such as crop picking, with those involved sending most of their wages home to support families.

But the trial was told that Matamata, who moved to New Zealand 40 years ago, made the people under his power work long hours with no pay, subjecting them to “a climate of fear and intimidation”.

Detective inspector Mike Foster said it was a complex investigation involving police and Immigration New Zealand, with cooperation from authorities in Samoa.

He said the sentence should act as a deterrent to the exploitation of vulnerable workers and he hoped it offered some comfort to Matamata’s victims.

“They went through a pretty awful ordeal,” Foster said.

“I think it will always be with most of them — many of the people that have gone back will be too afraid to come back to this country, and that’s not what New Zealand’s all about.”

Agence France-Presse

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