Re-trial of Lavulavus will continue after investigation into status of evidence concludes

The latest stage in the legal saga surrounding the Lavulavus has been adjourned until next Tuesday, April 2.

(L-R) ‘Etuate Lavulavu and ‘Akosita Lavulavu

The Supreme Court is conducting voir dire hearings.

According to Attorney General Linda Simiki Folaumoetu’i, voir dire hearings are a means of investigating the truth or admissibility of evidence.

She said they also investigated whether police and people involved in collecting evidence for a trial had done so legally and lawfully.

The Attorney General said the voir dire had not been completed.

The fourth and final prosecution witness for the voir dire, Auditor General Sefita Tangi, was still being cross examined by Counsel for the First Defendant, Mrs ‘Akosita Lavulavu;

The voir dire was adjourned from March 11, 2024 to April 2, 2024, due to official travel by Acting Justice ‘Elisapeti Langi and the Auditor General.

The re-trial of the Lavu Lavus will proceed after the voire dire.

‘Akosita and Etuate Lavulavu were jailed in 2021 for corruption and fraud connected with a school they ran.

In 2022, the Court of Appeal overturned the original sentence, ruling that the judge in the earlier trial had not been impartial. The Court of Appeal ordered that the duo be re-tried in the Supreme Court.

Before the re-trial ‘Akosita Lavulavu claimed that Justice Langi would be biased because she had been working at the Attorney General’s office when the charges were first laid.

Justice Tony Randerson said the appeal had no merit.

Lavulavu and others founded a private education institute in Tonga in 2003. Etuate Lavulavu was its president and his wife ‘Akosita was its director.

From 2013-2015 the Institute obtained grants from the Ministry of Education and Training. When the grants were audited by the Auditor-Genera’s office, irregularities were found.

It was recommended that $553,800 be reimbursed to the Ministry and that the case be referred to the police for possible further investigation.

In March 2018 the Lavulavus were charged with three counts of obtaining money by false pretences and convicted after a trial before Judge Cooper.

In July 2021 they were each sentenced to six years imprisonment with the final year of Mrs Lavulavu’s sentence suspended for two years on conditions.

They remained in custody until bail was granted in September 2022.

Mr and Mrs Lavulavu successfully appealed against their convictions. On  October 10, 2022 the Court of Appeal quashed their convictions and ordered a retrial.

The Court of Appeal said there was ample evidence to support findings of apparent bias on the part of the Judge, that the trial was unfair and that the verdicts could not stand.

However, the Court was satisfied that there was sufficient evidence to support convictions on a correct application of relevant legal principles.

In November 2022 former Lord Chief Justice Whitten, KC, set a trial date for May 8, 2023, but the DPP filed an amended indictment which said that Etuate Lavulavu was guilty as a party rather than as a principal offender.

Mr Lavulavu applied to have the charges against him dismissed on the grounds of abuse of process. However, in May 2023 Lord Chief Justice Whitten dismissed Mr Lavulavu’s application. Etuate Lavulavu was given leave to appeal. His wife did not appeal.

The appeal was subsequently dismissed.

For more information

Judge bars media from reporting on Lavulavu couple’s $500,000 fraud retrial

Former Tongan MP fails legal bid to appeal corruption and fraud sentence

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