Lord Chief Justice O.G. Paulsen has sentenced a 21-year-old woman to up to 23 months in prison, then suspended that sentence and ordered 60 hours of community service plus 12 months’ probation work.
Sālome Pousini was arrested and charged after she had embezzled T$73,276 in insurance company funds.
The 21-year-old was employed by the insurance company (FAT) as an office coordinator.
FAT was owned by the complainant who was only referred to in court document as TM, TM’s husband and one other person.
From March 2016 until her dismissal in July 2016 Miss Pousini was employed as a loan officer for a related finance company (FFL).
An amount of around $4,000 was unaccounted for at FFL and TM blamed Miss Pousini and said it was her responsibility to repay it.
The counsels agreed for the judge to proceed with sentencing on the basis that 14 cheques drawn on FAT’s bank accounts totalled T$73,276
Of that sum T$38,426 was paid to TM.
Miss Pousini took T$34,400 for herself while she used T$41, 000 to repay a shortfall and T$1,000 to make up an amount required by TM.
“Of the balance the Police have recovered a motorcar purchased with this money for T$8,900 and T$6,532 which was held in the bank account of a friend of Miss Pousini.
“That leaves a sum of approximately T$15,000 unaccounted for”, the court was told.
The judge referred to the missing money at FAT as ‘shortfall’.
“Miss Pousini did not believe she was responsible for the shortfall and she has never been charged with taking this money”, Mr. Paulsen said.
“Miss Pousini was concerned about the allegation and the obligation to repay such a large sum and offered to resign and was surprised when TM persuaded her not to do so.”
TM had signing authority on FAT’s bank accounts with ANZ and the Bank of the South Pacific.
“She advised Miss Pousini that she intended to withdraw money from FAT’s accounts for her own requirements.
“Over the period 6 May 2016 to 5 July 2016 TM gave Miss Pousini 14 signed blank cheques.
“TM instructed Miss Pousini that she required specific amounts from the bank.
“She told Miss Pousini to complete the cheques for that amount along with an additional amount for herself.
“Miss Pousini then completed the cheques, cashed the cheques at the bank and gave TM the amount she required.
“The balance of the money was used for her own purposes.
“Miss Pousini says, and I accept for present purposes, that TM told her that the additional amounts could be used to repay the shortfall, repay a loan that Miss Pousini had taken out with another related entity and also as a ‘bonus’ for herself”, Mr Paulsen said.
Miss Pousini was a first time offender, of good character and from a good family, who was naive and under the influence and control of TM and not fully comprehending of the significance or consequence of her actions, her legal counsel told the court.
In sentencing Miss Pousini Justice Paulsen said: “On the count of embezzlement Miss Pousini is convicted and sentenced to 1 year and 5 months imprisonment.
“On the count of money laundering she is sentenced to six months imprisonment to be served concurrently. These sentences are fully suspended subject to conditions that:
“Miss Pousini is not to commit any further offences punishable by imprisonment for a period of 2 years.
“Miss Pousini is to serve 12 months’ probation.
“Miss Pousini is to do 60 hours of community work undertaking general cleaning of public places on such days and at such times as directed by the Probation Service but no less than 4 hours on each occasion.
Miss Pousini is to report to the Probation Service Office at Kausela Road, Nuku’alofa before 9am on 15 September 2017.”