A senior police officer has been discharged without conviction by the Supreme Court after a hearing into charges arising from a vehicle incident during a major drugs operation.
Tevita Fifita, who was then Chief Superintendent of Police in charge of the Central police station at Nuku’alofa, appeared before Lord Chief Justice Cato.
Fifita was charged with attempting to pervert the court of justice by asking a police mechanic to replace a number plate on a vehicle.
He was also charged with reckless driving and using an unauthorised number plate.
The incidents occurred on November 18-19 last year.
In his report on the case, Mr Justice Cato said the count of reckless driving was dismissed because police had not issued a summon relating to the charge within the 14 day period.
Of the other charges, he said that Fifita had changed the police number plate of the vehicle to a civilian registration to help him maintain surveillance during a major drugs operation.
Mr Justice Cato believed he had the authority to order the number plate to be changed in his role as Acting Deputy Commissioner.
Fifita was keeping an eye out for two suspects thought to be still in Nuku’alofa and watch ferry arrivals and departures.
The operation eventually led to the seizure of a container of marijuana plants.
Later that evening he attended a police function and after checking the container was properly under guard he went home.
Shortly after he got home an informant rang and told him of a problem in Fangaloto. He was travelling to Fangaloto when he fell asleep around the Vuna road. He hit the cross bar on the gate at the Salote wharf and woke him up.
During discussions with the police mechanic about repairs to the car he asked that the civilian plate he had used during surveillance be replaced with the original police plate.
“I heard and considered closely the evidence of the accused and his cross-examination,” Lord Chief Justice Cato said.
“I found the accused a credible witness.
“He is plainly a person of good character having served the Tonga police for 35 years and being of a very distinguished rank and in charge of the largest police station in Tonga.”
In relation to the accident, the judge said there was no evidence that Fifita had had anything other than a long and hard day on police business.
He said he accepted that there was no attempt to pervert the course of justice in asking for the vehicle’s number plate to be changed.
However, the judge found Fifita guilty of using a vehicle with an unauthorised licence plate contrary to sections 9 and 41 of the Traffic Act.
Lord Chief Justice Cato discharged Fifita without conviction on this charge on condition that he pay TP$200 to the court as compensation.