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Auckland court slaps woman with $120,000 fine

A woman who took advantage of many Samoans here and in Auckland by falsely promising them jobs to secure residency in New Zealand has been ordered to pay $120,000 reparation to sixteen victims.

Uluata Ekuale, who is also known as Ata Afamasaga Utai, was sentenced in Auckland yesterday where she received 10 months home detention and a NZ$70,630 (T$120,000) fine.

Ms. Ekuale pleaded guilty to charges of supplying false information to an immigration officer, obtaining by deception and providing immigration advice without a licence. The arrest of Ms. Ekuale followed a lengthy investigation into her activities by the New Zealand authorities.

In 2008, the New Zealand Immigration investigated Ms. Ekuale’s Sanz Professional Services Immigration and Employment Agency.

It followed complaints from several clients who were promised help but instead she left them with shattered dreams.

"She's ruined my relationships with my kids, she's ruined my family," Fiti Leavai, a client of Utai, told One News in 2008.

At the time, Leavai was a New Zealand citizen but his five children were born and live in Samoa. He was trying to get them New Zealand residency.

At the time of the investigation, he had given Utai $3,500. Immigration New Zealand confirmed they had received no application from Ekuale for the family.

Leavai was not alone.

"We are looking at about 30 clients that I am aware of who are really, really affected in what Ata has done," said Faama'u Fred Lagotua, immigration adviser.

One of those is Novema Lafaitele. His family paid Utai over $3,000 and claim she reassured them his papers were in order. But he was deported. According to One New, Ekuale divides her time between her Auckland offices and Samoa.

Immigration New Zealand’s acting Fraud and Compliance Manager, Dean Blakemore says the sentence imposed on Ekuale reflects the seriousness of her offending.

He said the impact of offending on those who trusted her to act on their behalf was shocking.

“Uluata Ekuale made significant financial gains by taking advantage of vulnerable people from her own Samoan community,” said Mr. Blakemore.

“Immigration New Zealand will not tolerate this type of offending and the sentence imposed today shows that those undertaking such activities will face severe consequences.”



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