New Zealand makes first conviction for both human trafficking and slavery after a landmark trial2 min read

By: RupeshSaraf

On Monday morning, Joseph Auga Matamata, the first person to be convicted of both human trafficking and slavery in New Zealand, appeared at Napier High Court.

Matamata also had to pay reparations of about $183,000 to the victims and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Sentencing the work contractor, Justice Helen Cull said his offending was “abhorrent” and created a “climate of fear and intimidation”.

The victims were told they could earn significant income by Samoan standards, which they would be able to send back to their parents.

Once in New Zealand, these Samoan nationals were exploited by you for your own, and your family’s financial gain.

“You assaulted them. It included assaults with objects and assaults to the head. Some of those assaults caused injury and scarring. This instilled fear in the victims and ensured their compliance with your wishes.”

He had brought 13 Samoan workers to Hastings between 1994 to 2019 for horticultural work. Few times they worked 14-hour days, seven days a week, without pay, the court was told during the trial Earlier, this year.

After work, they were forced to complete chores at Matamata’s home into the late night and would get beaten if his rules were disobeyed. The oldest victim was in his 50s and the youngest was just 12.

Matamata was found guilty of 10 charges in human trafficking and 13 charges in dealing with slaves and acquitted of one trafficking charge.

At his five-week trial, he denied any wrongdoing, and denied keeping them in his house, saying, “there’s no rule”.

The previous month, the Crown seized half of Matamata’s property, including shares in homes in Camberley, Hastings to put towards the reparations.

Matamata sat quietly at the back of the courtroom between two guards, showing no emotion.

No victims were in court, but Crown prosecutor Clayton Walker read some of them in court. The victims’ names are suppressed.

The dream of providing a better future for a family member is not just unique to me, it is a dream shared by the majority of the people in Samoa. It is also human nature to want to see your family prosper no matter who you are.

“For a few reasons, Matamata has forgotten the struggles in Samoa. He has taken our dreams and lied to us about becoming prosperous and has advanced his status in New Zealand by owning houses and cars through pure greed. His status was founded on the hard work and sweat of those including me that he has exploited. He has shattered our dreams.”

While Matamata serves his sentence, he will undergo a rehabilitation program to address his violence. Justice Cull did not give a minimum non-parole term.

Eastern District Police Detective Inspector Mike Foster said the case was one of the most complex joint investigations undertaken by police and INZ, and the result is a testament to the shared determination to see justice done for Matamata’s victims.