Case of MP and smuggled whiskey starts in Samoa

The trial of a Member of Parliament accused of smuggling hundreds of bottles of whisky started yesterday.The first of 25 prosecution witnesses, Customs Officer Mika Su’esu’e Te’o, 32, alerted their office of his suspicions about a blue container he saw on the premises of Island Freight, a cargo forwarder, at Vaimoso, which MP Levaopolo Talatonu Va’ai is director of.On trial with Levaopolo is Island Freight staff member Christine Ainuu.Te’o said he entered the premises to clear goods at Island Freight’s warehouse on 7 February this year.Upon seeing the Customs Officer arrive, a taule’ale’a (non-matai man) hurriedly closed the door of the container, he said.Two boxes from the container was apparently being transferred to a minivan as a man wearing sunglasses and a cowboy hat – later identified as Jonah Lee – sat with a woman in chairs in the warehouse near the container.The container was close to the warehouse but outside it.In reply to his inquiries Ainuu at the office upstairs of the premises said the blue container was empty but was now used by a Jonah Lee to store goods, Te’o said.Asked what the goods were she said, “I don’t know,” according to the Customs Officer.Te’o said he saw Lee give a bottle of spirits to four boys who had suddenly halted work and shut the door of the container.As he left Island Freight he took a photo of the number of the container with his mobile phone.He told his superiors of his suspicions and learnt from their system that the blue container was “outstanding” – or it hadn’t been cleared by Customs.Christine Ainuu is charged with eight counts of uttering a forged document and five counts of forgery.She is also charged by Customs of four counts of defrauding the revenue of Customs and four counts of making willfully false statements to a Customs officer.All of Officer Mika Te’o’s evidence heard yesterday was against her.Under questioning by defence counsel Toleafoa Solomona Toailoa, the Customs Officer said Ainuu did not sign any declaration – and he did not investigate if Jonah Lee was a real or fictitious person.Levaopolo is charged with five counts of making willfully false declarations and five counts of defrauding the revenue of Customs.The charges relate to eight house bills and two way bills which allegedly contain false informatio

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