The temporary release of the jailed Lavulavu couple to go home on Tuesday has been heavily criticised.
A member of the public spotted a marked prison vehicle parking at the couple’s residence and took a photo before it was widely shared on social media earlier this week.
The Prison Commissioner Sēmisi Tapueluelu has confirmed a prison vehicle had dropped off the fraudsters Akosita and her husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu at their residence.
He said the Lavulavus were accompanied by two prison officers during the visit.
Tapueluelu said ‘Etuate and Akosita had requested to allow them to go home because of what the Commissioner has described in Tongan as the couple wanting to sort out various commitments which had been left unfinished.
He said they were allowed to go for only three hours after they left and before they returned to the prison.
“It’s true they were released to go out yesterday evening,” Tapueluelu told Kele’a Voice in Tongan.
Tapueluelu said the release was made according to the Prison regulations.
He said prisoners can be allowed to take leave and go home after six months of their jail term but that was a matter for him to consider.
Tapueluelu also revealed the Lavulavu couple had been previously released to go and have their Covid-19 vaccination done.
Critics said it was too early for the Prison Commissioner to make such decision after the couple’s bail bid has been denied by the Chief Justice earlier this month.
“The law is a laughing stock,” a commenter wrote.
“It is unfair,” one wrote.
“Sending to jail means stay there and do the time,” another wrote.
Some supporters of the couple have welcomed the decision on social media.
Former Cabinet Minister Akosita and her disgraced husband former MP and Cabinet Minister ‘Etuate Lavulavu have each been jailed for six years.
They were sentenced in the Supreme Court after being found guilty on charges of obtaining more than half a million pa’anga from the government school grant scheme by false pretences.
The couple owned and ran the educational institution ‘Unuaki ‘o Tonga Royal Institute.
The Lord Chief Justice Michael Whitten said their offences were of a very serious nature, involving some of the largest monetary amounts for offences of this kind in Tonga.
The couple had sought bail ahead of an appeal next March.
But this was denied by the Lord Chief Justice, who said in his ruling he doubted their prospects for success on appeal.
Kuo fakaanga’i lahi e fu’u vave ‘a hono tuku ange ongo Lavulavu’ ke na ‘a’ahi ki hona ‘api’ hili pe ‘eni ha uike nai ‘e ua ‘ena kamata ngāue pōpula’. Kuo fakapapau’i ‘e he pule pilīsone’ Sēmisi Tapueluelu ko e mo’oni hono faka’atā kinaua’ ‘i ha houa pe ‘e tolu pea ne ‘i ai pe ongo sela ne nau ō he me’alele pe ‘a e pilīsone’. Na’e ‘ikai ha ‘uhinga vivili ‘e fakahā ‘e Tapueluelu ke makatu’unga ai ‘a e faka’atā ko ‘eni’ ka ko e pehē pe ko ‘ena ō tu’unga he “ngaahi me’a kehekehe pe ‘oku te’eki ai ke tukunga lelei.” Ko e faka’atā makehe ‘eni ‘oku fakalao pe fakatatau kia Tapueluelu neongo ne mātu’aki faka’ehi’ehi ‘a e ‘Eiki Fakamaau Lahi’ ke ‘oua te ne tali ‘ena kole ki hana faingamalie pehē ‘i he uike atu’. Neongo ‘a ‘ene fakalao ‘a e fakangofua ko ‘eni’ ka ‘oku fakaanga’i lahi he ‘oku hangē ia ha ta’efakapa’apa’apa ki he tu’utu’uni ‘a e Fakamaau Lahi ke ‘oua tali ‘ena kole peila’ mo e mamafa ‘o e hia ne fakahoko ‘e he ongo Lavulavu’ ‘a ia ko ‘ena ‘ave ta’efakalao ha pa’anga ‘e vaeua miliona mei he pa’anga tokoni ako ‘a e fonua’.