Samoa Cabinet Ministers could face jail for obstructing police
Two senior members of the Samoa government to be sentenced on Friday week after being convicted of obstructing police.
The deputy Prime Minister of Samoa has been found guilty of obstructing police while they tried to carry out a blood-alcohol test last year.
Fonotoe Nuafesili Pierre Lauofo has consistently denied the charge, which relates to an incident last October.
The associate minister, Muagututagata Peter Ah Him, was also found guilty of obstructing the police, and failing to comply with the use of a breathalyzer device.
Muagututagata was initially pulled over by police for making an illegal u-turn on part of the main beach road in Apia.
The duo are to be sentenced on Friday week and Don Wiseman asked our correspondent Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia what the likely penalties are:
AUTAGAVAIA TIPI AUTAGAVAIA: The maximum penalty for that is either a fine or a term in jail. But the deputy prime minister, before the matter was taken to court, told the media in a press conference that he will be facing a fine not more than 200 tala, which is about 100 US dollars, but it's a very serious charge under the police offence, obstructing the police.
DON WISEMAN: He doesn't seem in any way apologetic about it. He made a comment outside the court thanking his supporters.
ATA: Yes, he was thanking his supporters, especially some of the matais from his constituent, for them keeping his as their MP in representing them in Parliament. He also thanked the court for their decision, and he said well this would be the answer of the matter and this must be God's answer to the whole case.
DW: He sounds a bit confused on that issue. When he talks about a fine , I guess the other thing the judge can do is dismiss without conviction and that happens a wee bit in Samoa, doesn't it?
ATA: Yes, there was quite a number of high profile cases where lawyers representing people, asked the court for the section under the law for people who are convicted and to be discharged without conviction. But that is up to the discretion of the presiding judge whether to accept such an application or not.
DW: What's the feeling among the general population about this incident, and the subsequent denials and so on.
ATA: Most people who voiced their opinions on this case from the proceeding, they were very disappointed on how the matter was handled by the police because it was a very long investigation and their file had been forwarded to the Attorney General for another consideration where it ended up the Attorney General recommending to the police to file charges.
DW: So police, at one point, just didn't want to tackle something involving the deputy prime minister?
ATA: Especially the politicians but with the media on this particular case reporting what had happened and following up stories on the matter, it ended up the police speeding up the process and finally the matter ended up in court."
DW: Are there repercussions for the Human Rights and Protection Party when one of their senior people or two of them really are convicted in this fashion?
ATA: Well there are repercussions in politics here, there are repercussions because from the beginning of this current parliamentary term, a number of MPs were facing charges in court, not only in the government but in the opposition. An opposition MP was charged in relation to the road block where he was found guilty but he was ordered to pay a fine. Now on the side of the government, the ruling HRPP party, the deputy prime minister and one of the associate minister has now been found guilty of offences under the traffic law, even though people take as a very minor offence because it's traffic, but obstructing police is a very serious offence.
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