Tonga Rugby League employee jailed for stealing $34,000 from Australian funds

A woman  who used her employer’s bank card to steal around $34,000 has been jailed.

Employee steals $34,000 from Tonga National Rugby League

Seinivunga Sanetify Ki Loto Tatau Lafo’ou, 30, was sentenced to 20-months imprisonment, partially suspended, for forgery and theft from National Rugby League Tonga (NRL).

The court was told the money was taken from a bank account in 46 systematic unauthorised withdrawals over 13-months.

The funds stolen were a grant from the Government of Australia for the development of NRL in Tonga

In 2021, NRL office created an account with the Bank of the South Pacific Limited Tonga in the name of Tavakesina Fangupo.

Mr Fangupo is the Country Manager of the NRL Tonga Community Outreach Program.

Miss Lafo’ou, who pleaded guilty to one count of theft, was employed at the NRL head office situated at Ma’ufanga.

The debit card for the relevant account was locked in Lafo’ou’s office. The pin number for the said debit card was known only to Fangupo and Lāfo’ou.

On l December 2022, when Fangupo went to pay the office rent, he discovered he could not make the payment due to insufficient funds in the account.

He enquired at the bank and received a bank statement revealing withdrawals from various ATM machines in the Nuku’alofa and Ma’ufanga area between the months of October, 2021 to November, 2022 amounting to $34,300.00.

Fangupo contacted Lāfo’ou and arranged a meeting to discuss the transactions.   

On 2 December 2022, Lāfo’ou gave Fangupo a letter from Ms ‘Amelia ‘Asi, her co-worker, admitting to withdrawing the money. She was attempting to frame ‘Asi for the theft.

Fangupo met with ‘Amelia who admitted responsibility for one withdrawal under the directions of Lāfo’ou. She confirmed to Fangupo that she did not give the defendant a confession letter for the withdrawals.

Fangupo lodged a complaint about the missing funds with the police on 15 December.

Justice Tupou  convicted Lāfo’ou for theft and is sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.

Two months from the sentence for the forgery is added to the headcount resulting in a final sentence of 20 months imprisonment.

The final 12 months of her sentence is suspended for a period of 2 years from the date of her release from prison on the condition that during that period she is to:

(a) not commit any offence punishable by imprisonment;

(b) be placed on probation;

(c) contact the probation office within 48 hours of her release and thereafter according to directions provided by the probation officer.

Failure to comply with those conditions may result in the suspension being rescinded and the Defendant being required to serve the balance of her prison term.

In the result, and subject to those conditions and any remissions available under the Prisons Act, the Defendant will be required to serve 8 months in prison.

The judge also said: “The Defendant is to be given credit for any time spent in custody on remand for the charges the subject of these proceedings”.

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