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Court dismisses treating allegations and says there is a case to answer

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA – 20 APRIL 2023: The Electoral Court has dismissed allegations of treating against the Vaimauga 3 Member of Parliament, Lautimuia Uelese Vaai but ruled there was a case to answer in the bribery allegations.

Two witnesses gave evidence in the counterclaim by Vaimauga 3 Member of Parliament, Lautimuia Uelese Vaai against the HRPP’s unsuccessful candidate, Samau Leatigagaeono Timani in the by-election in February claimed that they were given money by HRPP Secretary Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi so they could vote for Samau.

The witnesses Talia Laloata Peika and Masaga Kennech remembered being invited by Samau to his house at Vaivase-uta on 20 February 2023.

Neither of them knew where Samau’s house was located so a driver dropped them off at the house.

While at Samau’s house, they talked about the upcoming by-election and Samau allegedly urged them to “tautuana le palota…a tulai mai le tofi, o le a manuia le itumalo.”

The witnesses said Samau then talked about the good deeds done by the late Vaimauga No 3 MP Tapunuu Niko Lee Hang.

About 15 minutes into the conversation, Lealailepule arrived and after exchanging pleasantries, they continued to talk about the by-election.

The witnesses remembered Leala asking them to vote with honesty and keep Samau in mind.

Tautuana le palota a Samau…Palota ma le faamaoni ona ua tigaina Samoa i  mea pi’opi’o a le FAST. O Tuilaepa sa lelei ai le atunuu, a o lea ua faaletonu le atunuu.”

The $100 nodding gesture
Talia and Kennech both testified that they saw Samau signalling to Lealailepule by way of a nod of his head and his eyes directed at where Samau’s wife was.

“Lealailepule acknowledged the nod, stood up and walked towards Samau’s wife and I saw her gave something to Lealailepule,” said Kennech.

Lealailepule then returned to where the others were and Samau asked Lealailepule if he had “something for the old men.”

Na saofai loa Lealailepule ae faapea loa ma Samau ia Leala, pe iai sana mea e ave ma nai toeiina ia.”

Leala in turn handed over two $100 notes to Kennech and Talia and again reminded them to remember Samau on polling day.

Counsel for Samau Alex Su’a informed the witnesses that both Samau and Lealailupe will give evidence and will deny what they said in Court.

Both witnesses stood their ground and insisted that Lealailepule did give them the money.

When asked to give the sequence of event on that particular day, Talia said on that day, they were in-front of Punoalii Fetulima Malopito Kopelani’s shop at Magiagi.

The shop phone rang and Punoalii who is Samau’s cousin was busy inside the shop. She turned on the phone speaker and talked while serving her customers.

The conversation between Samau and Punoalii was overhead by the witnesses who have never met Samau. Punoalii repeated Talia’s word to Samau who then invited the witnesses to come over.

They said after receiving $100 each, they said their farewell and were about to leave when Lealailepule told them that he would drop them off.

When they walked towards Lealailepule’s car, the witnesses noted the former President of the Land and Titles Court Fepuleai Atila Ropati in Lealailepules car.

Witnesses contradicting evidence
Although there were a lot of things the witnesses agreed upon, they also contradicted parts of their evidence.

During cross examination, Su’a asked Kennech whether Talia said during their conversation with Lealailepule and Samau that it was his (Talia) vote that secured Tapunu’u’s win in the past election and that he received $3000 from Tapunu’u.

Kennech said yes but Talia denied it.

The Court also noted there was evidence presented orally by the witnesses that were not in their affidavits.

The counterclaim continues today with Samau’s side to respond to the bribery allegations.