Former Cabinet Minister and MP ‘Akosita Lavulavu has been sentenced to six years in prison.
However, the Supreme Court suspended the last 12 months of her sentence for two years on condition that she comply with the probation officer, satisfactorily complete a life skills course and commit no offence punishable by imprisonment.
Her husband, who has a long record of court appearances and convictions, will serve the full six years.
Both defendants were convicted on three counts of obtaining money by false pretences.
They were found guilty of fraudulently obtaining money from the Ministry of Education and Training by lying in applications for money from the Technical Vocational Educational Training Grant about the number of students enrolled at their private college, the ‘Unuaki ‘o Tonga Royal Institute.
Mr Justice Cooper, presiding, said, he utterly rejected their claims that the money was used for the Institute.
The judge said they could have been charged with theft.
The court was told the Lavulavus had committed a carefully executed fraud over several years that amounted to a serious breach of trust.
Mr Justice Cooper told the court a pre-sentence report on ‘Akosita said there had been no attempt to repay the money, that she still maintained her innocence and showed no remorse.
The judge said ‘Akosita had supplied false references, something the pre-sentence report described as “an act of dishonesty which further proves her true character.”
Mr Justice Cooper said ‘Etuate Lavulavu’s offences were not out of character and was known to be deceitful. He posed a risk of re-offending.
The judge said a pre-sentencing report on ‘Etuate found that he still denied the offences; showed no remorse, blamed the court for being biased and did not accept his guilt. He had offered to pay all the money back in exchange for a community penalty and being spared prison.
“Had either defendant admitted their guilt and repaid the monies, as they seemingly can afford to do, then I would have approached this sentence in a totally different way,” the judge said.
“Instead, Mr. Lavulavu offered what some might think sounds very much like a bribe to stay out of prison.”
The judge said he had taken into account all possible mitigating factors to keep the overall sentence as low as I possibly could.
“I thought long and hard about the submissions in relation to Mrs Lavulavu and her being a mother of young children,” Mr Justice Cooper said.
“I feel I am unable to lessen her sentence despite this. It could be argued that she deliberately put her children’s wellbeing in jeopardy with her course of criminal behaviour; some might argue that was an aggravating feature to do so, I do not see it that way, but I do not lessen her sentence for that.
“Both defendants were in this together and their sentences reflect this.”
The Lavulavus were arrested and charged with fraud on March 3, 2018. Akosita was subsequently sacked from her Ministerial position by the late Prime Minister, ‘Akilisi Pōhiva.
She was appointed Minister for Infrastructure and Tourism by Prime Minister Pohiva Tuʻiʻonetoa in October the following year, while she was awaiting trial.
Tuʻiʻonetoa has so far taken no action against her.
Pehē ‘e he fakamaau lahi’ ne mei lava ke toe tā mo e tikite ‘a e ongo Lavulavu’ ki he kaiha’a (theft) makehe mei he faka’ilo kuo’ na ngāue pōpula ai’ ‘a ia ne faka’ilo pe kinaua he founga ne na ma’u kākaa’i’aki ‘a e pa’anga’ kae ‘ikai ko e kaiha’a. ‘I hono fakahū atu ‘o e fakamatala ki mu’a pea hilifaki ‘a e tautea’, ‘iloa ‘eni ‘i he lea ‘Ingilisi’ ko e pre-sentence report. Ko e lipooti ‘eni ‘e fai ia ‘e he kau ‘ōfisa polopeisini’ ‘aki ‘enau faka’eke’eke ‘a e taha ‘e tautea’ ko e hā ‘enau ongo’i ki he hia ne nau fai’, hā ne nau fakahoko ai ‘a e hia’, pea ko e hā honau puipuitu’a fakafāmili hangē kapau ‘oku ‘i ai ha fānau mo ‘enau ngāue. ‘I he lipooti ‘o Akosita mo ‘Etuate na’e mahino ‘a e ‘ikai ha’ana loto faktomala, na kei tu’uaki pe a’u ki he mōmeniti faka’osi ‘ena tonuhia’, pea mo taukave’i ne na ngāue’aki pe pa’anga’ ki he’ena ako’anga’. Na’e ‘ikai tui ki ai ‘a e fakamāu’. ‘Ikai loto ‘a Akosita ia ke totongi fakafoki ‘a e pa’anga’ pea’ ne tō ai e lea ‘a e fakamaau lahi’ ko ‘eni ‘o pehē kapau ne na fakatomala mo loto ke totongi fakafoki ‘a e pa’anga’ na’e mei kehe ‘aupito ‘a e tautea te ne hilifaki’. Na’e mahino ki he fakamāu’ ko ‘Etuate ia kuo pāte’i faihia, tala ‘e ia ‘oku fakapalataha ‘a e fakamāu’ pea ‘i he tui ‘a Nicholas Cooper ‘e toe fai hia pe ‘a ‘Etuate ia he kaha’u’ pea ko e ‘uhinga ia ‘a e ‘ikai ke ne toe fakasi’isi’i hono tautea ngāue pōpula ta’u ono’. Na’e loto ‘a ‘Etuate ia ke ne totongi fakafoki ‘a e pa’anga’ kotoa kae fetongi ‘aki hano tautea pe ia ke ngāue ki he komiunitii’ pea ‘oua na’a ngāue pōpula. Ka ne pehē ‘e he fakamāu’ kuo hangē tofu ‘ene ‘ai’ ‘ana ha totongi fakafufū kae ‘atā mei pilīsone’. Ko Akosita ne ta’u ono mo ia ka ne malu’i angalelei ‘a e ta’u ‘e taha fakamuimui’ ‘o holo pe ‘o ngāue pōpula ta’u nima ka e toloi ‘a e ta’u ‘e taha fakamuimui’ he ta’u ua. Na’e ‘i ai mo e lave ‘a e fakamāu foki ki he pehē ‘oku ‘i ai ‘a e fānau ‘e toko ua ‘a e ongo Lavulavu’ pea ke hoko ia ko ha me’a ke toe si’isi’i ange ai hono tautea ‘o Akosita’ ka ne ‘ikai tui pehē ‘a e fakamāu’ tu’unga he kei loto fefeka pe ‘a Akosita mo kavekavea’u tokoua ‘oku tonuhia pe ia’ pea na’ e totonu ke kimu’a ‘ene fakahoko ‘a e hia’ ke ne fakakaukau’i lelei ‘oku ‘i ai ‘ene fānau. Na’e toe fa’u ‘e Akosita ‘a e ngaahi tohi fakaongoongo lelei loi ‘o ‘oange ki ha kakai ke nau fakamo’oni ai ka ne ‘ilo ia he lipooti ko ‘eni na’e ‘ikai ‘ilo e kakai ia ko ‘eni’ ki he kakano ‘o e tohi’. Pea na’e pehē ai ‘e he fakamāu’ ko e ta’efaitotonu ‘eni ‘a Akosita kuo ‘asi lelei mai ai hono lanu totonu’.