Bringing Light to the Darkness of Human Trafficking (Trafficking in Persons)

A man accused of human trafficking and slavery charges has been found guilty of all but one charge.

Joseph Matamata, 65, was on trial before a jury in the High Court at Napier, facing 11 charges of trafficking people and 13 charges of dealing in slaves.

The alleged offending occurred between late 1994 and April last year and involved 13 victims.

He was found not guilty on one trafficking charge, but guilty of the remaining 23 charges.

joseph auga
Joseph Auga Matamata in court

The jury retired at 2.27pm on Monday after listening to Justice Helen Cull's summing up of the trial of Samoan chief Matamata.

They had made a decision by 12.37pm on Tuesday, a decision that took about seven-and-a-half hours.

 The Crown alleged that Matamata brought Samoan citizens into New Zealand with the expectation from them that they would earn big money by Samoan standards.

But once here they were exploited by Matamata for his financial gain. He would take workers to orchards or work sites and receive "bags of cash" as payment for their work but would never pass it on to them, the Crown said.

Justice Cull reminded them that a slave was defined as a person retained as property and slavery was the ability of one person to control another person as they would control a chattel, or "thing".

 Flanked by two court security staff Matamata remained silent while the verdicts were being read, coughing loudly once.

He gave a brief wave to silent family members as he was led from the courtroom.

Justice Cull thanked the jury for their service and relieved them from duty for the next five years.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment general manager verification and compliance, Stephen Vaughan, said Immigration New Zealand welcomed the guilty verdicts.

"This has been a protracted investigation by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) and New Zealand Police staff, with help from other Government agencies and the Samoan authorities," Vaughan said.

"I would also like to thank the victims for their bravery during this protracted investigation and trial. This has been a very difficult time for the victims involved who have all been informed of the result."

Matamata has been remanded in custody for sentencing which will take place on May 6.

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