Court Jails ‘Samoan Chief’ For Keeping Child and 12 Others as Modern Slaves

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16: A statue of the scales of justice stands above the Old Bailey on February 16, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Dan Kitwood/Getty

A migrant man has been given an 11-year sentence for human trafficking and keeping 13 people, including a 12-year-old, as slaves in New Zealand.

Joseph Auga Matamata, described as “a Samoan chief” living in New Zealand, lured victims from his homeland from as long ago as 1994 to April 2020, with the promise of a better life — but on arrival they were put to work for up to 14 hours a day, seven days a week picking fruit, without pay, and then forced to act as servants at his house.

Matamata disciplined his modern slaves by administering beatings, leaving some with permanent scars, and the court was told that one teenager who tried to flee was brought back bundled into the boot of a car with her wrists tied.

“The victims were told they could earn significant income by Samoan standards, which they would be able to send back to their families,” said sentencing judge Helen Cull, denouncing his “abhorrent” behaviour and the “climate of fear” which he created in comments quoted by Radio New Zealand (RNZ).

“Once in New Zealand, these Samoan nationals were exploited by you for your own and for your family’s financial gain.

“You assaulted them… it included assaults with objects and assaults to the head. Some of those assaults caused injury and scarring. This instilled fear in the victims and ensured their compliance with your wishes,” she said.

“Police, along with INZ [Immigration New Zealand], are committed to investigating human trafficking and slavery, supporting victims and making sure those responsible face justice, and are prevented from doing further harm,” said astern District Police Detective Inspector Mike Foster of the landmark case.

Speaking for INZ, Stephen Vaughan praised Matamata’s victims for their “bravery”, noting that their “decision to take a stand and share details about what they went through was the key to securing these convictions.”

Crown prosecutor Clayton Walker read statements from the victims in court to give some indication of the harm Matamata had done to them.

“[Matamata] has forgotten the struggles in Samoa,” said one.

“He has taken our dreams and lied to us about becoming prosperous and has advanced his own status in New Zealand by owning houses and cars through pure greed. His status was founded on the hard work and sweat of those including me that he has exploited. He has shattered our dreams.”

Matamata has been ordered to pay the equivalent of around £93,000 in compensation to his victims, with the Crown seizing half of his property to help provide the funds.

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