When convicted Cabinet Minister Akosita Lavulavu was appointed in October 2019 one of her first moves in office was rewarding one of their key witnesses by giving her an important role in her Ministry of Infrastructure, the Supreme Court has revealed.
Akosita and her convicted husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu were both found guilty for obtaining TOP$558,600 by false pretences.
The conviction included three counts of knowingly dealing with forged documents to defraud the government’s school grant.
They are set to be sentenced on July 2.
Muna Nasiai, 29, who previously worked in the Lavulavus’ school office, was employed as Akosita’s personal assistant (PA).
Justice Nicholas Cooper said Nasilai “deliberately misled” the court by lying that she was a “clerk” in the Ministry for Infrastructure, before it was found out during the trial and on oath she was in fact Akosita’s PA.
“It is a particularly egregious aspect of this case that both defendants have tried to corrupt the trial process by buying off at least one witness,” the judge said.
Taught to lie
The judge said he was no doubt that both ‘Etuate and Nasilai “rehearsed what she was to say in answer to questions put to her by him”.
But ‘Etuate “had made an error in what he taught her so she repeated that same incorrect version” to the judge in court.
Nasilai, along with another witness Simione Tahi, had been described by Mr Cooper as examples of witnesses determined to lie to the court for the Lavulavu couple.
“Nasilai were plainly instrumental in the dishonest bidding of both defendants in the recruitments; the enrolment lists, and the receipts, she appears to be as culpable as these defendants from what I have seen”, Justice Cooper said.
“I am quite sure she was bought off by Mrs Lavulavu (and her husband) and given a job in the Ministry of Infrastructure where Mrs Lavulavu had become a Minister in October 2019”.
During the seven-week trial, Nasilai also pretended to be ill so that she could not come to court to produce her work contract with the Ministry, after she was ordered by the judge.
“That she was in fact Mrs. Lavulavu’s Personal Assistant means that the court was deliberately misled when she was identified during the trial and on oath, as being a “clerk” in the Ministry for Infrastructure”.
“That deceit strikes at the heart of this case because Miss Nasilai was called as a witness of truth on key issues the defence have gone on to rely on.
“But steps were taken to disguise her association and connection to the first defendant.
Justice Cooper said Nasilai’s lying on behalf of the Lavulavus was clear when she gave her evidence of two government auditors, Miss Golton and Mr Elone.
“This was a mistake that Mr. Lavulavu made in his questioning of her and was perpetuated by Miss Nasilai in her answer when she agreed with this, but went on to say she did not know the names of the people from MET who had come to check.
“Of course, they were really Miss Golton and Mr Elone.
“The corollary of this is that plainly both Mr. Lavulavu and Miss Nasilai had rehearsed what she was to say in answer to questions put to her by him; he had made an error in what he taught her so she repeated that same incorrect version to me in court. No doubt this attempt to assist the defendants by perjuring herself is how and why she was ‘rewarded’ with a job by Mrs Lavulavu”.
Mr Cooper described Nasilai’s reaction in court while she was giving evidence about a meeting in Sopu as “looking very uneasy at this point”.
“She was hardly ever addressing her answers to me and often casting her eyes to the ground when answering. She stated from 2012 to 2016 nothing illegal had happened at UTRI”, Justice Cooper said.
As we reported previously, the Lavulavu couple have been released on bail after their conviction.
The conditions of the bail included requiring the couple to report into the central police station every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and they are prohibited from leaving the mainland Tongatapu .