Lord Chief Justice’s PA works overtime after Lavulavu guilty report too big to be sent to media online

    Tonga’s Supreme Court could reconsider its system of sending judgements to media by e-mail after the report on the Lavulavu trial was found to be too big to be sent electronically.

    The judge’s verdict, which ran to 126 pages, had been eagerly awaited  by media outlets.

    The Personal Assistant (PA) for the Lord Chief Justice informed Tongan local and international media the verdict could not be attached to an email because of its large size.

    She advised the reporters to come to the Supreme Court and download the 126 pages verdict ruling into a USP stick. We have informed the PA and reminded her we are based in Auckland.

    The email was sent about an hour before the court’s closing time at 4.30pm.

    However, the PA said she would just stick around until 5pm in the office in case some reporters would turn up late.

    The email read: “Please be advised that the verdict ruling of the abovementioned case cannot be sent to you by email as an attachment, due to its size. Therefore, if you require a copy do attend our office with a USB drive.

    “Note that our office is to be closed at 4:30pm. I will wait around until 5PM before I leave. If you have any questions please call me or the Registrar who is copied herein.”

    Guilty

    As Kaniva News reported yesterday, the Supreme Court has found Cabinet Minister and MP Akosita Lavulavu and her ousted husband, former Cabinet Minister and MP, Etuate Lavulavu  guilty of allegedly defrauding $558,00 of government school funding grants.

    ‘Etuate, 62, and Akosita, 36, were charged with knowingly dealing with forged documents and obtaining credit by false pretenses, after irregularities in an audit of the ‘Unuaki ‘o Tonga Royal Institute in 2016.  Akosita was the director of the school while ‘Etuate was the president.

    The Tongan Broadcasting Corporation reported at the time that the attorney General believed that the Lavulavus had provided false information about student enrolments, which had led to the overpayment.

    The original investigation identified 97 names of supposed students, including staff, band and floorshow groups working at the Restaurant at the Tonga National Cultural Centre.

    Following their conviction, the Lavulavus, who have been married since 2009,  have now been released on bail ahead of their sentencing on July 12.

    The court case, which started in April 12, heard how ‘Etuate used his political connections and position to facilitate the frauds.

    In his verdict, Mr Justice N. J. Cooper said: “This is an example of the worst sort of dishonesty; people who should be working earnestly for constituents but use their position, connections and influence to steal from a fund for the education of children of this Kingdom and then in front of me in court, twist the evidence and lean on witnesses to try extricate themselves,” Matangi Tonga Online reported.

    “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 [of the] witnesses,” Mr Justice Cooper said.

    ‘Etuate argued he was not directly involved as he was away in Vava’u and in Fiji at the time of the incident and that prosecutors had failed to prove otherwise.

    But Mr Cooper said that claim was “just silly”.

    “They were in this together, just as they ran the school together….What happened to the money on receipt and that they disposed of it makes this glaringly obvious,” according to the Matangi Tonga.

    The grants were paid into the bank accounts that were controlled by both defendants. The applications for the grants were made in the name of ‘Akosita Lavulavu the Director. While ‘Etuate Lavulavu was the President of UTRI at all relevant times.

    The judge said he had been persuaded on the evidence that both knew of the deliberate inaccuracy of the claims; the falsity of the student lists and the receipts.

    ‘Etuate Lavulavu has a long history of court appearances and convictions, while ‘Akosita Lavulavu has been the subject of repeated calls for her to step down from her Ministerial portfolio while the current case was being heard.

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