The Court of Appeal has overturned the acquittal of a woman charged with embezzlement and said the judge who freed her acted wrongly.
On November 7 last year Loleini ‘Ala pleaded guilty in the Supreme Court to one count of embezzlement .
Judge Niu discharged her without conviction under Section 204 of the Criminal Offences Act The discharge was deemed to be an acquittal.
On November 22, 2017, ‘Ala was given TP$22,500 in cash to deposit into her employer’s bank account with MBf Bank. Instead, she deposited TP$14,375 into her own account with BSP Tonga Bank.
She then faked a robbery by injuring herself and scattering loose banknotes inside the vehicle. After making a false complaint to police about the fake robbery she spent more than TP$11,000 on drinks, dining, partying and shopping.
Police were suspicious of Miss ‘Ala’s complaint and discovered the money deposited into her account. When questioned, ‘Ala admitted what she had done.
When she came go trial, Judge Niu concluded that her offending was out of character and that she had acted because she believed her employer had treated her unfairly.
He said young people should not be jailed for being foolish because they would be “hardened, rather than taught by such sentences” and “condemned” as criminals as a result of which “many, if not most of them reoffend.”
As Kaniva Tonga news reported at the time, the judge if all young people were imprisoned for being foolish “they would all grow up with a prison sentence hanging over them.”
Judge Niu said Section 204 had been enacted because it was the Legislature’s intention that convictions should not be recorded in such cases.
The Crown appealed the decision.
In its consideration of that appeal, the Court of Appeal said the judge had erred in several respects and had made a wrong decision.
It said the judge had not referred to the appropriate legal authorities and precedents which offered guidance on the case.
He also ignored previous cases were it was held that a prison sentence was the appropriate sentence for embezzlement.
He had also indulged in unfounded speculation about the likely effect of a prison sentence on young offenders in general and ‘Ala in particular.
The Court of Appeal said Judge Niu had also erred in procedural matters.
It said it did not agree with Judge Niu’s belief that Section 204 was enacted to avoid convictions being entered against the young and foolish and had found nothing to support his conclusion.
On these grounds the order discharging ‘Ala without conviction was quashed.
She was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to two years imprisonment. The sentence was fully suspended on the condition that she commit no offences punishable by imprisonment during this time.
The main points
- The Court of Appeal has overturned the acquittal of a woman charged with embezzlement and said the judge who freed her acted wrongly.
- On November 7 last year Loleini ‘Ala pleaded guilty in the Supreme Court to one count of embezzlement .
- Judge Niu discharged her without conviction under Section 204 of the Criminal Offences Act The discharge was deemed to be an acquittal.
For more information
Woman acquitted in embezzlement case; judge says he understands why she did it