By Rob Kidd, Otago Daily News
A top rugby player who gave his team-mate a vicious beating did not buy his way out of a conviction by paying him $50,000, a judge says.
Japanese international Amanaki Lelei Mafi (29) had his case called yesterday before the Dunedin District Court, where, in his absence, counsel Anne Stevens QC entered a guilty plea to assaulting 29-year-old Lopeti Timani.
Last week, Judge John Macdonald indicated he would discharge Mafi without conviction if the payment was made.
It should not be seen as “an indication he somehow bought his way out of a conviction”, he said.
Timani, who was playing for the Melbourne Rebels alongside Mafi at the time of the incident last year, suffered injuries to his head and neck which took six months to heal, the court heard.
But the defendant provided letters saying his lucrative contract would likely be terminated if he was convicted.
While having “some reservations”, the judge accepted that outcome was out of all proportion to the seriousness of the offending.
Though the value of that contract was not specified, he inferred it was probably “significant if not substantial”.
Crown prosecutor Robin Bates did not oppose the discharge without conviction.
The Rebels were beaten 43-37 by the Highlanders on July 14 last year, effectively ending their chances of a Super Rugby playoff spot.
After the game, Mafi and Timani, who grew up together in Tonga, went to a South Dunedin home, where they drowned their sorrows among Mafi’s family members.
By 4am the next day, the men were intoxicated.
Mafi objected to “coarse language” being used by Timani in front of his female relatives, the court heard.
The pair agreed to fight in the lounge.
Judge Macdonald called it “an extreme overreaction”.
The burly forwards exchanged blows but were eventually separated.
Fearing for his safety, Timani fled the house to nearby Bathgate Park, where he called his brother in France and asked him for help.
Mafi found him and the violence continued.
The defendant punched him repeatedly in the head and Timani believed he was also kicked numerous times.
Mafi later admitted inflicting the blows and explained he had become “enraged” that the victim had insulted his family member.
He said he only stopped punching Timani when he thought he had “had enough”.
In the days after the assault, the victim was pictured with a heavily swollen face and two black eyes.
Timani — who is currently contracted to La Rochelle, in France — told the Sydney Morning Herald he thought he was going to die during the sustained beating.
Both men were fined $A15,000 for breaching team protocol.
In a victim impact statement, Timani said the ordeal had had a profound impact on him, both financially and emotionally, which was ongoing.
He said he believed the assault — and the “concussive symptoms” stemming from it — could have shortened his playing career by a year.
Mafi must pay Timani the $50,000 reparation within a week, Judge Macdonald ordered.
A letter of apology would also be passed on to the victim, the court heard.