17 Dec 2018

Man arrested for human trafficking and slavery named

9:31 pm on 17 December 2018

A 64-year-old Samoan national charged with 18 counts of human trafficking and slavery over a 23-year period in Hawke's Bay can now be named as Viliamu Samu.

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Viliamu Samu, who is also known as Joseph Matamata, appeared in the Hastings District Court this morning. Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Justice

An Immigration New Zealand spokeswoman said the department understands he is better known in the community as "Joseph Matamata".

The orchard worker from Camberly, Hastings who has New Zealand residency, appeared in Hastings District Court this morning following a two-year investigation by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) and the Police.

Victims say Mr Samu closely controlled and monitored their movements, including where they went and who they contacted and he is believed to have promised people well-paid jobs.

Court documents show Mr Samu is charged with using 10 people as slaves between 1994 and 2017. He also faces eight charges of arranging the entry of people from Samoa into New Zealand by deceiving between 2003 and 2017.

He's accused of committing the offences in Samoa and across the Hawke's Bay region.

It is not known whether any of them remain in New Zealand.

Each slavery charge carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison while the human trafficking charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison or a $500,000 fine.

Mr Samu was granted bail and will appear in the Napier High Court on 28 January.

'A new low for NZ' - Immigration NZ

"This is a new low for New Zealand. To be charged with a number of victims and the combination of slavery and people trafficking, I would represent it as a new low," INZ assistant general manager Peter Devoy told media this morning.

"Allegations made by victims include not being paid for work completed, having their passports taken and being subjected to physical assaults and threats."

The owners of the orchards are not facing charges, and it is believed the man was acting alone, Mr Devoy said.

"This is about labour contracting."

INZ assistant general manager Peter Devoy and Detective Inspector Mike Foster of Eastern District Police say there are currently 10 known victims.

INZ assistant general manager Peter Devoy and Detective Inspector Mike Foster of Eastern District Police say there are currently 10 known victims. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Authorities became aware of the situation when a person who was unlawfully in New Zealand came to the attention of Immigration New Zealand staff. It then became apparent that this person was also a victim, he said.

"Information collected during the joint investigation suggests that the man, who was seen as a respected member of his community in Samoa, targeted vulnerable people, who had limited education and literacy," Detective Inspector Mike Foster of Eastern District Police said.

During this morning's press conference he said the victims were contracted out to various orchards throughout Hawke's Bay.

"We've got 10 victims at the moment from both Samoa and New Zealand, how many more are out there, we're unsure."

Mr Devoy said this is the fourth time INZ has charged with people trafficking, but it's a first for the New Zealand Police.

The combination of slavery and people trafficking, and the treatment of these people sets it apart from previous cases, he said.

"The way I see this is that this is bringing the offending into almost a mainstream of offending in New Zealand. Exploitation is something that we are seeing more of."

The case has the hallmark of modern day slavery, he said.

"It's becoming more common that we're seeing exploitation in the labour force, we've got to realise that the New Zealand's labour force is changing and that migrants make up a significant portion.

"That labour force when they come into New Zealand is a vulnerable labour force and that's what we're seeing here."

New Zealanders need to become more aware of what's going on, ask questions and notice what's going on.

"[The arrest] reflects how seriously both of our agencies take these types of allegations, and our commitment to combating Transnational Organised Crimes, including people trafficking," Mr Devoy said.

He said the Samoan authorities provided valuable assistance during the investigation.

Anyone who is concerned or has information should ring Immigration NZ or the police, Mr Foster said.

The general manager of Hawke's Bay apple grower Johnny Appleseed described the revelations of human trafficking and slavery as devastating.

Paul Paynter employs up to 700 people at peak season, including about 110 recognised seasonal employees.

He is worried the government will become nervous about increasing the number of RSE workers from the Pacific.

"This is labour terrorism, this is undermining the credibility of an industry that's trying incredibly hard to work with government agencies and do the right thing," he said.

Mr Paynter said horticulture is facing another staffing shortage this season and the revelations will make the sector look even less attractive to potential employees.

The First Union's spokesperson, Dennis Maga, said he fears there may be more rogue staff recruiters operating.