Duo jailed after $200,000 worth of stolen items taken from Tonga National Museum

A burglar and a man who received stolen goods from Tonga National Museum have been jailed.

The sentencing came after Siosaia Taulahi, 21, and Soane ‘Anitoni, 14, pleaded guilty to counts of serious house breaking and theft after their arrest in March 2023.

They both admitted to breaking into the museum and stealing the valuable handicrafts.

Taulahi and Anitoni gave the stolen items to a co-defendant Tevita Pasi in exchange for methamphetamine.

Mr Pasi was consequently charged with handling the stolen goods and supplying an illicit drug.

According to the Supreme Court decision, Mr Pasi was sentenced to six years and four months’ imprisonment with the last two years being suspended for two years on conditions. The length of his sentence was increased to reflect the fact that he manipulated two younger people to commit these offences, particularly Anitoni who was a child of 14 years old.

Mr Taulahi was sentenced to four years and four months’ imprisonment, with the last two years being suspended for two years on conditions.

Justice Cooper backdated their sentences to start from the date they first went into custody.

Mr Cooper also took into account their early guilty pleas and they did not have previous convictions. They also cooperated with the Police.

The court was told that during the course of the investigation, it was discovered that in February 2023 Ms Milika Pamana, the manager of the museum became aware that the Facebook page of Roselyn Mafikaunanga Tofavaha, who lives in New Zealand, was advertising some of those stolen museum pieces for sale.

When police investigated, they were informed that Mrs. Tofavaha and her husband Lataimuli Vaka had purchased those items from the Talamahu market before selling them in New Zealand.

The following month the police recovered one ta’ovala and two kato.

The investigation led police to Tevita Pasi and his wife. The information they received was that Tevita and Samoana Pasi had received the stolen handicrafts. When they went to their residence, they recovered more of the stolen items.

The court was told that the total value of the items was TOP$231,700.

In an interview with Police on 17 April 2023 Mr Pasi admitted meeting with both Taulahi and ‘Anitoni, taking the stolen items from them in exchange for a gram of methamphetamine.

The court was shown evidence of ransacking or vandalism caused during the break in.

Photographs of the scene showed that in five areas of the museum, graffiti tags were sprayed on the walls floor and a door, in one case using a marker pen.

The museum was assisted by the Ministry of Tourism in restoring this damage.

The cost of that to the Ministry was $1,067.94.

Mr. Taulahi admitted to police that he caused the vandalism. 

“This was a break-in at a museum and the items belonged to various collections where the owners felt that their properties were being kept safe and are being preserved. The items that were stolen were very valuable and had sentimental value, hence it is kept in a museum”, the court document said.

Most of the items were never recovered by the Police.

In a victim impact statement Ms Pōmana lamented the loss of the artefacts, tradition and culture.

The court was told, the incident made her feel guilty especially when thinking about the people who lent their artifacts to the museum and put their trust in her.  

“There is no say about the mental distress, the emotional distress, and the spiritual stress that I experienced since the day this despicable incident occurred, and that is one of the reasons why I do not wish to talk about what happened because I experience a lot of hurt ever since it happened. I am still scared going to the museum by myself, especially the room where the items were stored.”

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