Lavulavus’ land lease fraud trial adjourned again

The Minister of Infrastructure ‘Akosita Lavulavu and her disgraced husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu, once again had their case adjourned when they appeared at the Magistrate court this morning March 29.

Minister of Infrastructure ‘Akosita Lavulavu and husband ‘Etuate Lavulavu. Photo/Akosita Lavulavu (Facebook)

The Leader of the Opposition Party Semisi Sika, who was one of the witnesses in the case claimed they were told the Magistrate was unable to attend the session due to an illness.

The last time it was postponed was March 18 after the Lavulavus failed to turn up because they were in Vava’u.

Sika said the trial would resume this Thursday April 1.

On April 12 the couple are expected to appear at the Supreme Court to face another separate fraud trial.

In that case, ‘Etuate and Akosita will 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.

Their case this Thursday arises from a dispute after their landlord in Vava’u 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 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.

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

Tui told Kaniva News in a previous exclusive interview he never signed such letter.

‘Etuate, the People’s Party Deputy Chairman – the Party in which the Prime Minister was a founding member –  previously 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.

Controversial backgrounds

‘Etuate Lavulavu is no stranger to courts, controversy or convictions.

In 2003 he was arrested by the FBI while trying to board a flight from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. He was charged with falsifying immigration papers for Tongans to become American Citizens as part of a scam carried out with his brother. He pleaded guilty to two counts of illegal use of a birth certificate, but only had to pay costs.

In 2004 he began referring to himself as “professor” and said he had a doctorate from an American institution, which turned out to be a notorious “mail order” university which essentially sells degrees.

The Director of Education said at the time that the Ministry did not recognise his “professorship.”

In 2016 Tonga’s Supreme Court convicted him 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.

As a result of his conviction he was kicked out of Parliament. His wife Akosita won the by-election in his electorate.

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.”

Last year the Supreme Court ordered ‘Akosita to pay the plaintiffs’ costs after Lord Chief Justice Whitten quashed her decision to deny whale watching and swimming licences to a group of companies.

Mr Whitten said the Minister’s decisions were infected by errors of law.

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