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Samoan chief denies slavery and human trafficking

A Hastings-based Samoan chief, the first person to face both human trafficking and slavery charges in New Zealand, worked a man for 17 months with no pay, a court has heard.

Samoan chief and former horticultural contractor Joseph Matamata, also known as Viliamu Samu, denies 24 charges in relation to bringing 13 people from Samoa to New Zealand for horticultural work across Hawke's Bay.

At the High Court in Napier today, Crown prosecutor Clayton Walker claimed Matamata, 65, had physically and verbally abused many of his workers.

“One worker was hit numerous times by Matamata, including an assault with a stick, a power cord, a broom and secateurs,” Walker said.

The Crown claims the worker had been brought to New Zealand from Samoa and spent 17 months working for Matamata.

“He [victim] was never paid for that work, all the money he earned was kept by Matamata.”

Walker said Matamata's claims of formalising working Visas also never materialised, which rendered one alleged victim both an illegal worker and an overstayer.

The court heard the victim claimed when he wasn't working he was kept behind a "padlocked perimeter" fence and was not allowed to talk to workmates or fellow worshipers at church on Sundays.

He said Matamata's status meant his workers were not inclined to complain.

“A matai [chief] is someone who has controlling authority and commands through his title respect and obedience. Respect and obedience is a fundamental part of Samoan culture.

“For these victims there's also a cultural sense of shame over not being paid, and being ill-treated.”

The accused, who has New Zealand residency and lives in Hastings, was arrested in December 2018 after a two-year investigation by Police and Immigration New Zealand.

Samoan language interpreters will be used during the proceedings.

A jury of six men and six women was selected this morning.

Justice Helen Cull is presiding over the trial which is expected to last about five weeks.

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