Ha‘apai governor who is a former lawmaker guilty of possessing unlawful turtle meat

A Supreme Court judge has found the former legislator who is now the Ha’apai Governor guilty of unlawful possessing of 198kg of turtle meat.

Manuopangai Hingano. Photo/Facebook

Viliami Manuopangai Hingano, 46, was in possession of the turtle meat out of the shell, without it being certified by an authorised officer that it came from a turtle of legal size.

He pleaded not guilty and elected trial by judge alone on 11  August 2020.

Hingano told the court that at about 8pm Thursday 19 March 2020,  Mohokoi Tongile’o telephoned him and asked if he could receive his (Mohokoi’s) cargo arriving on the boat the next morning, and told him that there was some fish in it for him too. He said that he told  him he would do it.

Hingano told the court that he had no guilty intent to commit this offence and that he did not know that the law required that there be prior approval to kill a turtle.

But Judge Niu didn’t buy it.

“Having heard the accused ‘s background, he being a director in the Ministry of Public Enterprises, and he had been a member of Parliament representing District 12 of Ha’apai which included Lofanga, and having grown up and living in Ha’apai, I do not believe
his evidence that he did not know that an approval was required before a turtle was killed,” Mr Niu said.

The court was told a Police officer Talia’uli Moa arrested Hingano after a joint operation which included three fisheries officers arrived at the Queen Salote Wharf at 10am on March 2020 to check if  there were any illegal shipments of catch. The MV ‘Otuanga’ofa arrived that morning from Vava’u and Ha’apai.

Moa said that a man who was standing by one of the ship’s container at the wharf asked him what work they were doing. The man was Hangano, the court was told. He told Hingano that they were inspecting the ship’s cargoes for unlawful marine produce,  and he jokingly said to Hingano, “May be you are one of those who ship up unlawful fishing produce”, and then he asked Hingano, “Do you have any cargo?”

The Police officer said Hingano said, “Yes, it’s a small cooler of fish and turtle (meat)”.

The Police officer said he asked him again whether it had turtle (meat) and that Hingano replied yes. He said he asked for his driver’s license and after Hingano gave it to him, he asked him whether it would be alright to inspect his cargo in which Hangano agreed .

Moa said he called the fisheries officers before they inspected the cargoes which was a cooler and stand up freezer. Both were full of fresh turtle meat in crushed ice and there were also two crayfishes and six small fishes.

Contacting Ha’apai Fisheries office

One of the fisheries officers telephoned the Fisheries office in Pangai, Ha’apai to check their record of permits and it was confirmed there was no permit issued for the killing of turtles in Ha’apai in the name of Hingano.

“Having considered all the evidence given and the submissions of both counsels, for which I am grateful, I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the accused did possess, at Nuku’alofa, on 20 March  2020, 198 kg of turtle meat out of the shell without it being certified by an authorised officer that it came from a turtle of legal size,” Mr Niu said.

“Accordingly, I find the accused, Viii Manuopangai Hingano, guilty and I convicted him of the charge with which he is charged in this trial.”

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