Samoan chief jailed for slavery and trafficking in New Zealand

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A New Zealand court on Monday jailed a Samoan chief for trafficking and enslaving 13 people, including a child, for 25 years after the country’s first conviction in such a case.

The court heard that Joseph Auga Matamata’s victims worked 14-hour days, seven days a week without pay and were often beaten, but were too scared to go to the authorities because of his status of matai or chief in their native Samoa.

The 65-year-old horticultural contractor was convicted in March of luring 13 victims, the youngest of whom was 12, from the island pacific nation with the promise of better work opportunities.

On Monday the high court sentenced him to 11 years in jail and ordered him to pay NZ$183,000 ($122,000) in reparations to his victims, according to the Immigration New Zealand and New Zealand Police, which jointly investigated the case.

Police and immigration said it had been a highly complex investigation, and that Matamata’s actions were “abhorrent and went against all basic human decency”.

“His breaches of trust, physical abuse, and blatant disregard for the well-being of people he was purporting to help were unconscionable and must be condemned”, said Stephen Vaughan, a manager at Immigration New Zealand, in a statement.

Matamata’s lawyer Roger Philip told the Thomson Reuters Foundation his client, who denied all the charges, was “saddened by the verdict” and was considering his position over the conviction.

Matamata was the first person to be charged with both slavery and trafficking in New Zealand.

In sentencing him on Monday, the judge said he created a “climate of fear and intimidation”.

“The victims were told they could earn significant income by Samoan standards, which they would be able to send back to their families,” judge Helen Cull said, according to Radio New Zealand.

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

Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit