When Loto* noticed the police arrive at the rural property in New Zealand the place he had been held captive for practically two years, the man who had imprisoned him there advised him to run. Instead, Loto quietly waited to be found by police.

Loto had spent 17 months being held as a slave on a property in Hastings on New Zealand’s North Island. He was by no means paid for his work and was topic to merciless beatings from Joseph Auga Matamata, a 65-year-old Samoan chief, or matai.

Nine days earlier than police arrived at the property in January 2017, Loto had begged one other Samoan he had met working at a plant nursery to report him to the police for overstaying his visa.

Before he was deported, Loto advised police his story, triggering one of the largest and most complicated immigration investigations ever undertaken by officers in each New Zealand and Samoa. Eventually, officers uncovered an internet of offending by Matamata spanning 25 years.

On 16 March, greater than three years after Loto escaped from Matamata’s management, following a five-week trial, Matamata stood silently in the dock at the excessive courtroom in Napier as he was convicted on 13 counts of dealing in slaves and 10 counts of human trafficking between 1994 and April 2019. It is the first time that anybody has been concurrently convicted of each prices in New Zealand. His oldest sufferer was Loto, at 53, his youngest sufferer was simply 12.

Chores, abuse and beatings

Despite their circumstances spanning a long time, the tales the victims advised over the five-week trial have been comparable: they met Matamata in Samoa and he paid for their flights and visas to New Zealand, promising them work or education. But upon arrival they discovered themselves working 14-hour days in the fields as “bags of cash” have been handed to Matamata, a horticultural contractor, however by no means handed on.

After working in the fields all day they did chores round his house late into the evening and have been subjected to brutal beatings if work was not accomplished to his liking. They weren’t allowed to depart his property with out permission, converse to anybody at work or church, or speak to their households in Samoa.

The crown prosecutor Clayton Walker advised the jury that every one of Matamata’s victims “trusted him completely” as a result of he was a matai, a Samoan chief.

“That trust was misplaced. He abused his matai position.”

Loto, who arrived in New Zealand in winter 2015, says that he was usually punished for working too slowly, having to “offer” up his head for Matamata to hit with a bit of wooden, a power twine, secateurs or a brush.

At the starting of the trial Matamata usually wore an ’ulafala, a brilliant purple pandanus key necklace symbolising his mainly standing over his swimsuit and tie. As the weeks wore on it gave solution to a black hoodie. He sat quietly, typically smiling, usually trying bored, as his victims gave proof towards him. None of them returned his gaze.

A middle-aged girl, shielded from him by a display, sobbed as she described how as a 15-year-old lady she had tried to run away from Matamata’s home in 1995, however that he had tracked her down, certain her wrists and ankles and pushed her again.

He had promised her mother and father in Samoa she can be educated in New Zealand however as a substitute discovered herself cooking, cleansing and taking care of his youngsters. Her day began at 4am and sometimes didn’t end till 11pm.

A 15-year-old boy, who was adopted by Matamata and delivered to New Zealand when he was 12, described how his adopted father as soon as threw a pair of secateurs at him so onerous they lodged in his arm.

When Matamata lastly took the witness stand he denied the whole lot, saying he by no means assaulted anybody, his guests didn’t must comply with strict guidelines, and the fence round his property was there to “protect his family” in a harmful neighbourhood. He claimed he had introduced individuals to New Zealand for a “holiday”, not work, and it was out of his management in the event that they ran away and have become overstayers.

“I am a matai. I help people,” he stated.

Many of Joseph Matamata’s victims have been trafficked from the village of Falefā. Photograph: Tutuila Farao/The Guardian

‘I’m glad he was caught’

Many of Matamata’s victims come from the village of Falefā, simply 20km east of Samoa’s capital of Apia. With a inhabitants of practically 5,000 individuals, the village is a group of vibrant European-style homes and conventional Samoan fales (homes) surrounded by lush gardens, overlooking the sea.

Despite his reference to the village, the first that the mayor of the village, Fanualelei Tominiko Purcell, heard of Matamata’s trial was when his household offered a considerable quantity of cash in a standard apology (ifoga) to the village council. Purcell wouldn’t affirm the actual quantity.

“We were all surprised when [Matamata’s] extended family showed up and presented the traditional apology,” Purcell says.

As half of the Samoan tradition, anybody discovered responsible of any wrongdoing or of shaming the village in a way is certain to be penalised by the council, particularly if such accused holds a outstanding place inside the village.


Next door to Falefā is Matamata’s house village of Faleapuna, which has a inhabitants of round 1,500 individuals.

Some of Matamata’s victims got here from this small village, and there may be anger there about what occurred to them and a sense that Matamata’s crimes had tarnished the fame of their village, which is quickly growing right into a vacationer hub.

A bunch of 4 younger males hanging out on the seawall say they have been effectively conscious of the trial in New Zealand and referred to Matamata as “The Sifi”, earlier than beginning to giggle. Sifi means “chief” in Samoan, however can be slang for the villain in a film.

Si’usega Manuele, a younger mom from Faleapuna, says she knew Matamata from the village and that he was a outstanding determine in their native church.

“We go to the same ward for the Mormon church or the Latter Day Saints, he loves to go to church whenever he comes to Samoa and I just can’t believe he could’ve done something this bad to our own people,” she says.

“I was shocked when I saw the news as well on TV that night, and I’m glad he got caught.”

Back in New Zealand, the conflicting picture of a loving matai and a brutal slave grasp is one thing many who know him have struggled to reconcile.

“It’s like it’s a different person I’m reading about,” says Peleti Oli, who grew up with Matamata, attending the similar church and enjoying rugby along with his sons.

“I’m shocked. He’s a great man and father figure to me.”

Oli, a neighborhood councillor, doesn’t condone what Matamata did, however does acknowledge that some of his offending is taken into account widespread in Samoan tradition.

“It’s very common for us as Samoans to be disciplined in a physical manner,” he says, including it’s also regular for relations to work with out getting paid.

“Even when I was a kid I worked, almost to 21, and I would give all my pay to my family. That is how we do things.”

He by no means had any suspicions about the stream of individuals who got here to remain at Matamata’s house or attended their church, a sentiment echoed by his neighbours.

No one ever noticed or heard something unusual at his home, although some did suppose the tall wire fence and locked gate round his property have been odd.

In the finish, the jurors took simply seven and a half hours to ship 23 responsible verdicts. Matamata was acquitted on one trafficking cost. He will likely be sentenced in May.

Each slavery cost carries a most penalty of 14 years in jail and the human trafficking prices carry a most penalty of 20 years in jail or a NZ$500,000 fantastic. He now faces spending the relaxation of his life behind bars.

Matamata’s lawyer, Roger Philip, says his shopper is “extremely disappointed” in the verdicts and is now “taking some time to consider his options”.

‘Tip of the iceberg’

Matamata’s conviction is a rare achievement given such circumstances are usually “notoriously difficult” to prosecute, says Natalia Szablewska, a senior legislation lecturer at Auckland University of Technology, who is an skilled in fashionable slavery.

“The evidentiary burden is often very high and complainants can be confused about what happened to them, or even that what happened to them would constitute slavery or human trafficking.”

Before Matamata’s prosecution, there have solely been three different human trafficking circumstances in New Zealand in the final decade, just one of which resulted in a conviction.

“Modern slavery is much more widespread than we suspect,” says Szablewska, who hopes Matamata’s conviction will open doorways for different circumstances round the world.

“International statistics tell us there are 40 million people in some form of slavery so it’s probably quite right to say this is just the tip of the iceberg and there are many more potential cases of this happening in New Zealand or elsewhere in the world.”

None of Matamata’s victims have been in courtroom to listen to the responsible verdicts however have been knowledgeable by telephone and have been “delighted” with the consequence, says Immigration New Zealand supervisor Stephen Vaughan.

“They were very brave and courageous in coming forward. This has been a very difficult time for the victims involved.”

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