The Nuku’alofa Supreme Court today Friday 29 rejected a request from the Minister of Infrastructure and her husband to extend the deadline for the hearing of their fraud charges until June.
William Clive Edwards Jr, one of the lawyers for Mrs ‘Akosita and Mr ‘Etuate Lavulavu wanted to give the Lavulavus’ barrister in Australia, Stephen Stanton, more time to make travel arrangements, Nepituno webpage reported today.
It said Stanton’s attempts to travel to Tonga had been marred by the impacts of the Covid-19 restrictions.
Edwards also wanted to give the Lavulavus’ lawyers more time to respond to prosecutors’ allegations.
The Lavulavu couple was arrested on October 2018 and charged with knowingly dealing with forged documents and obtaining credit by false pretences, after irregularities in an audit of the ‘Unuaki ‘o Tonga Royal Institute in 2016.
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- Landlord sues Infrastructure Minister and husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu over allegedly forged letter to Lands Ministry claiming he agreed to allow ‘Etuate quarrying his land
- Public outrage after audio recording appears to show demand for land deal sweetener in return for supporting new coalition’s quest for power
At the time, ‘Akosita was the Minister of Internal Affairs. She was later sacked from her ministerial position by the then Prime Minister due to the criminal charges.
She was re-elected about a year later by the current Prime Minister Pōhiva Tu’i’onetoa as his Minister of Infrastructure.
Chief Justice Michael Whitten rejected the request, saying the case had been held up for two years now.
Whitten said there has been several repatriation flights from Australia to Tonga recently and there was an opportunity there for Stanton to apply to travel to the kingdom. The government has announced this week more repatriation flights from Australia to Tonga starting next month until June.
Whitten has set the hearing date for 12 April 2021.
In 2016 Tonga’s Supreme Court convicted ‘Etuate of bribery and spending over the legal limit on his 2014 election campaign.
The judge said ‘Etuate was not a credible witness and that his evidence was implausible, evasive and untruthful.
‘Etuate is also facing a lawsuit after he was accused recently of forging a landlord’s signature in Vava’u from whom he leased land.
In 2000 he was sued by Late Prince Tu’ipelehake for damages and unlawful cultivation of his land. Chief Justice Ward ordered ‘Etuate to quit the land and pay $7,905 damages. Chief Justice Ward, presiding, was scathing about aspects of ‘Etuate’s testimony during the trial, saying “I felt he was willing to say almost anything that seemed to suit the moment with a repeated disregard for the truth.”
‘Etuate was also arrested in Utah in the United States in October 2003 over a 1997 immigration scam. In 2004 he was convicted after pleading guilty to two counts of illegal use of a birth certificate.
He is the Deputy Chairman of the People’s Party, a political organsation he co-founded with Prime Minister Tu’i’onetoa.