Viliamu Samu, also known as Joseph Matamata, is the 64-year-old Samoan national charged with 18 counts of human trafficking and slavery in the Hawke’s Bay. It is alleged the orchard worker from Hastings was using 10 people as slaves between 1994 and 2017 to work on various orchards. He is also accused of eight charges of organising and deceiving people from Samoa to enter New Zealand.
Immigration NZ (INZ) assistant general manager Peter Devoy called the fiasco “a new low for New Zealand” in a press conference on Monday. "Allegations made by victims include not being paid for work completed, having their passports taken and being subjected to physical assaults and threats.” Owners of the orchards are not facing charges, as it is believed Samu was working alone.
Detective Inspector Mike Foster of Eastern District Police 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." Victims said Samu promised them well-paid jobs but instead they were left unpaid and their movements, like where they went or who they spoke to, were closely monitored and controlled.
On Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Morning Report that the Government needed to do more to protect exploited migrant workers and coax them into coming forward. "We want to do more to uncover where exploitation is occurring. We had roughly 1800 complaints in the last year. That led to 13 prosecutions, 320 other outcomes and 300 investigations that are still ongoing,” she said. "It is fair to say that there is quite a bit of work in this space but we do need to do more."
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. It is the first time the New Zealand Police has charged someone for human trafficking, but the fourth time for INZ.
Samu is accused of offences in both the Hawke’s Bay and Samoa. He has been granted bail and will appear in Napier High Court on 28 January.