Former Deputy PM called as witness in Lavulavus’ alleged land lease forged document case

Former Deputy Prime Minister Sēmisi Sika was called as a witness in the case of a high profile couple accused of committing forgery.

Tourism MInister ‘Akosita Lavulavu, Former Tourism Minister ‘Etuate Lavulavu, Opposition Leader Sēmisi Sika

Disgraced Former MP and Cabinet Minister ‘Etuate Lavulavu and his wife Akosita Lavulavu, the Minister of Infrastructure failed to appear at the Fasi Magistrate Court today.

They had been charged with using a document, knowing it to be false, with the intent that it in any way be used or acted upon as genuine.

Sika, who is also the PTOA Party Leader was concerned after he and other witnesses arrived at the court today but the hearing was postponed until March 29 after the Lavulavus did not turn up. He said this was not the first time they attended the court before the case was adjourned.

Sika’s witness summon seen by Kaniva News says the hearing was expected to run for two days.

“You are ordered to attend at the Fasi Magistrate on 18 – 19 March 2021 and give evidence in the case of Akosita and ‘Etuate Lavulavu who were committed to the sitting of the Magistrate Court because they knowingly used a forged document on 6 September 2017,” Sika’s notice read in Tongan.

It is understood, all Cabinet Ministers including ‘Etuate were still in Vava’u.

As Kaniva News reported late last year a landlord in Vava’u has vehemently denied writing and signing a letter which was submitted to the Ministry of Lands and Survey telling them he agreed to allow ousted Cabinet Minister ‘Etuate Lavulavu to quarry rocks on his land.

The letter was believed to be written by the Lavulavus.

Sione Tunufa’i Tui said he learned further quarrying activities operated on seven acres of his eight acre tax allotment in Ta’anea were based on a letter he claimed he did not know was submitted to the Ministry of Lands and Survey three years ago.

Tui said they only agreed for ‘Etuate to lease only three acres of his land.

The letter was written on September 5, 2017 to the Ministry  telling the authority Tui had agreed to alter the lease purpose from business to quarrying.

The letter, which was written in Tongan, also claimed the reason Tui agreed to the lease was to facilitate ‘Etuate’s agreement with the Ministry of Infrastructure to provide quarrying activities.

“Not only that but also I agree to allow ‘Etuate Lavulavu and his Inter Pacific company to operate the tax allotment for quarry purpose and to sell it for profit,” the letter read.

A copy of the letter, seen by Kaniva News, was purportedly showed Tui’s signature.

Tui denial

Tui told Kaniva News in an exclusive interview he knew nothing about the letter.

He said the first time he knew about it was when he was handed a copy by a staff member at the Ministry of Lands and Survey after he made inquiries.

“I decided to use the law to resolve our problems and this was just the beginning,” Tui said.

He said he had also taken legal action against Hon. ‘Akosita because Etuate allegedly subleased the tax allotment to her.

In another letter seen by Kaniva News, Tui wrote to the Ministry of Lands on  January 27, 2020 and told its CEO he wanted to cancel the lease in question.

“The letter of September 5, 2017, which purported to show it was written by me was not mine. That was not my signature. And I haven’t seen any paper work like that before,” the letter read.

“We never talked about leasing and for a payment of $1500 per year. They were all made up by ‘Etuate Lavulavu,” Tui claimed.

Tui told the Ministry the signature he used to sign his letter of 27 January 2020 was his real signature which was totally different from the signature appeared on the letter apparently submitted to the Ministry dated on September 5, 2017.

‘Etuate’s response

‘Etuate, the People’s Party Deputy Chairman – the Party in which the Prime Minister was a founding member –  told Kaniva News Tui allegedly signed the letter and there were people who could bear witness to it.

He claimed Tui’s signature varied whenever he signed.

He claimed he did not forge the letter or falsify any documents.

‘Etuate also alleged some opposition politicians were behind Tui and wanted to defame him.

Under the spotlight

As Kaniva News reported last week, ‘Etuate came under the spotlight after Prime Minister Tu’i’onetoa revealed Inter Pacific Ltd was one of the three contractors the government awarded with contracts to supply rocks for the government’s new multimillion road project.

‘Etuate was made a Director of Inter-Pacific Limited in February 2016, but was replaced by ‘Inoke Finau Vala in May last year.

In 2016 Tonga’s Supreme Court convicted ‘Etuate of bribery and spending over the legal limit on his 2014 election campaign.

The judge said Lavulavu was not a credible witness and that his evidence was implausible, evasive and untruthful.

Last year, the Supreme Court also ruled that ‘Etuate and Akosita must jointly stand trial on three counts of obtaining money by false pretences and three counts of knowingly dealing with forged documents.

The charges arise from an investigation of the finances of the ‘Unuaki ‘O Tonga Royal Institute, a private education provider.

Akosita was the director and ‘Etuate was the president.

In a case in 2000, Lavulavu was sued by the Late Prince Tu’ipelehake for damages and unlawful cultivation of his land. In his summing up of the trial, Lord Chief Justice Ward said Lavulavu “was willing to say almost anything that seemed to suit the moment with a repeated disregard for the truth.”

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