Movements of Samoa MP raised in smuggled whisky trial
The travel movements of a Member of Parliament accused of smuggling whisky has been raised in his trial.
The trial of Gagaemauga No.2 MP, Levaopolo Talatonu, is scheduled to resume next Monday after an adjournment of several weeks. Levaopolo and co-defendant Christine Ainuu are jointly charged with four counts of false declaration pursuant to section 221 and 209 of Customs Act 1977 and four counts of defrauding the Customs pursuant to section 218 and 209 of the same.
Ainu’u is also charged with five counts of forgery/ making false document and eight counts of uttering forged document pursuant to the Crimes Ordinance 1961.
Before the adjournment the Prosecution produced a senior staffer of Immigration, Paul Ah Kuoi, as a witness. Ah Kuoi told the District Court that Levaopolo left the country for Auckland, New Zealand, on 19 December last year and returned to Samoa on 20 January this year.
According to Immigration records the defendant did not travel overseas in February this year, Ah Kuoi said.
Evidence by the legal advisor of Ministry of Revenue, Komisi Koria, said on 5 March this year Levaopolo told him and a colleague of being away in New Zealand in February this year.
Evidence produced by the Prosecution so far says that on 19 December last year container BHCU3078686 arrived in the country and taken to the premises of cargo forwarding company Island Freight, which Levaopolo is a director of and where Ainuu works. Inside were at least 900 crates of bottles of whisky.
But paperwork associated with the cargo produced by Island Freight states the cargo as personal effects that belong to five people who the Prosecution says do not exist.
They’ve produced witnesses from Samoa National Provident Fund and the Registrar of birth certificates, deaths and marriages who told the court none of those people are on their records.
Ministry of Revenue and Police are keen to talk to a Toleapai Jonah Lee, a resident of Australia which Immigration says entered Samoa from Sydney on 3 February this year.
Levaopolo knows Lee, a regular visitor to Samoa.
The MP contends that while in New Zealand in February, Ainuu phoned him to say Lee needed space at Island freight to store goods. Since container BHCU3078686 stood empty, its cargo released to its owners, Lee was allowed to place his goods in it.
On 7 February while at Island Freight on another matter Customs Officer, Mika Su’esu’e Te’o, said he saw bottles of whisky being unloaded from container BHCU3078686.
When Customs became aware that a significant number of whisky bottles were being sold in shops and their records revealed no big whisky shipment had entered the country in that time period they took action.
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