Supreme Court finds Lavulavu couple guilty in $558,600 fraud trial

    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.

    They have been released on bail ahead of their sentencing on July 12.

    ‘Etuate Lavulavu, who did not have legal representation, previously argued that he and his wife should have separate trials.

    The Attorney General argued that the prosecution case was based on a joint enterprise by Mr and Mrs Lavulavu who allegedly gave instructions or information to their staff to engage in activities which allowed them to gain government subsidies.

    They had applied money allegedly derived from the false accounting to their private bank accounts either individually or together.

    Two material witnesses who Akosita Lavulavu admitted were accomplices had been given indemnities to give evidence of the allegedly dishonest instructions they received.

    This resulted in a significant amount of money being received by the institute and then being transferred to the Lavulavu’s bank accounts.

    In his closing argument last week, ‘Etuate Lavulavu, told Judge Nicholas Cooper he did not directly involve as he was away in Vava’u and in Fiji at the time of the incident and that prosecutors have failed to prove otherwise.

    “What are the fake names that were added to the list? What went wrong with it and who were those fake names?” ‘Etuate asked at the end of the proceedings, local media reported.

    Witnesses for Akosita told the court the names of students the prosecutor has submitted as fake were indeed students who were enrolled at Unuaki ‘O Tonga Royal Institute (UNRTI).

    In an email from the Supreme Court this morning it says the verdict ruling of the case cannot be emailed to us in Auckland due to its size but it is available to be downloaded into a USP drive from its office.

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