‘Etuate Lavulavu kissed a Holy Bible in the Supreme Court last week and swore by the “Almighty God to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” while defending himself during a fraud trial in which he is being charged together with his wife.
‘Etuate claimed in court the government owed him about TOP$10 million, the Kakalu newspaper reported.
Justice Nicholas Cooper wanted an explanation from ‘Etuate regarding the alleged debt. ‘Etuate claimed it was for renovation and construction works he did at the government’s Tonga National Centre (TNC).
Lavulavu and his wife Akosita Lavulavu, who is the Minister of Infrastructure, Tourism and Transport are defending themselves after pleading not guilty to charges relating to knowingly dealt with forged documents and obtaining credit by false pretences.
An investigation was prompted by the Auditor General’s office claiming hundreds of students supposedly attending the UNTRI could not be identified and that the Institute should repay TP$553,800 to the Technical Vocational Education and Training fund (TVET).
The couple allegedly used forged documents to support an application to obtain supplementary government funding to assist students at their ‘Unuaki ‘O Tonga Royal Institute (UTRI) private school.
UNTRI was known as a university, but it ceased to be an accredited provider of education after a decision by the Tonga National Qualifications and Accreditation Board (TNQAB).
In 2014 ‘Etuate and UNTRI were ordered to move out of TNC, a judgement read.
The decision came after tenancy agreements were signed between the Ministry of Tourism and the university in 2008 and 2009.
The agreements allowed UNTRI and ‘Etuate to occupy TNC for a period of five years.
However, in 2013 the government commenced proceedings against Lavulavu and UNTRI seeking payment of outstanding rent and interest amounting to $158,400.
The following year the government lodged another legal action seeking court order against Lavulavu and UNTRI to vacate the TNC.
The complaint said the property has insufficient or no insurance cover and is a substantial asset at risk.
The tenancy and management agreements have both expired and the TNC was deteriorating, it said.
In his ruling former Chief Justice Anthony Ford said: “Taking into account the material placed before me, I do not find that the University or Mr. Lavulavu have “any real prospect” of succeeding in their claims to retain possession of the TNC”.
Ford also said: “I accept that the TNC is not properly insured. I also accept that it is at risk. It is a very substantial aid funded government asset which if lost could not be replaced by Mr. Lavulavu. The University has lost its accreditation. In my opinion the only arguable dispute between the parties is purely financial and does not provide any basis for the retention by the University or Mr. Lavulavu of the TNC”.
In 2003 Lavulavu apologised to the House after an altercation in which he swore at the late Prime Minister ʻAkilisi Pōhiva.
In the same year, Lavulavu was arrested at the Salt Lake City International Airport, Utah after he arrived from Tonga and charged with falsifying immigration papers for Tongans to become American citizens as part of a scam carried out with his brother in 1997. He later pleaded guilty to two counts of illegal use of a birth certificate, but only had to pay costs.
In 2004 he began referring to himself as “professor” and said he had a doctorate from an American institution, which turned out to be a notorious “mail order” university which essentially sells degrees.
The Director of Education said at the time that the Ministry did not recognise his “professorship.”
In 2016 Tonga’s Supreme Court convicted him of bribery and spending over the legal limit on his 2014 election campaign.
The judge said Lavulavu was not a credible witness and that his evidence was implausible, evasive and untruthful.
As a result of his conviction he was kicked out of Parliament. His wife Akosita won the by-election in his electorate.
In a case in 2000, Lavulavu was sued by the Late Prince Tu’ipelehake for damages and unlawful cultivation of his land. In his summing up of the trial, Lord Chief Justice Ward said Lavulavu “was willing to say almost anything that seemed to suit the moment with a repeated disregard for the truth.”
Last year the Supreme Court ordered his wife ‘Akosita, a Cabinet Minister, to pay the plaintiffs’ costs after Lord Chief Justice Whitten quashed her decision to deny whale watching and swimming licences.
Mr Whitten said her decisions were infected by errors of law.
Kuo fuakava ‘Etuate Lavulavu he Tohitapu’ ‘o fakapapau ‘i he ‘ao ‘o e ‘Otua Mafimafi ko e me’a kotoa te ne lea’aki’ ‘i he fakamaau’anga’ ko e totonu mo e mo’oni kotoa pe ia, lolotonga hono hopo’i ia tukuaki’i ki hono ma’u kākaa’i ‘o ha pa’anga ‘ova he vaeua miliona’ mei he pule’anga’. ‘I he konga ‘ene fakamatala’ hili ‘ene fuakava’ na’a’ ne pehē tokua ai ‘oku mo’ua ange ‘a e pule’anga’ ia ki ai ofi ‘i he $10 miliona. Na’a’ ne pehē ko e pa’anga fakakātoa ‘eni hili ‘ene fai ‘a e ngaahi monomono mo e langa ki he Senitā Fakafonua’ ‘a ia ne lele ai ‘ene ako’anga ‘Unuaki ‘O Tonga’. ‘Oku mahino foki ne tu’utu’uni ‘a e fakamaau’anga ‘i he 2014 ke mavahe leva ‘a Lavulavu mei he senitaa’ hili ‘eni ‘a e tukuaki’i na’e ‘ikai ha malu’i pe ‘inisiua ki he ngaahi fale’, ta’etokanga’i ke ngaahi pea hā lingolingo mo ta’efe’unga ‘a e fu’u ‘api. Ne toe ‘eke’i fakalao foki mo e mo’ua ta’etotongi leni (rent) fe’unga mo e pa’anga ‘e taha kilu tupu pe $158,400 kia Lavulavu. Ne iku tu’utu’uni ai ‘a e fakamaau’anga lahi ke ne mavahe leva mei he ‘api ni.