Appeal court upholds life sentence for prisoner who exported 29kg meth from Tonga to New Zealand

A prisoner who is serving a life sentence after sending illicit drugs to New Zealand, has failed in his effort to have the sentence overturned.

Nomani Kama Manulevu

Nomani Kama Manulevu, 46, was sent to jail for the unlawful exportation of 29.7kg of methamphetamine that was concealed in a refrigerated container to New Zealand in 2021.

He is the first person to receive a mandatory life sentence under the kingdom’s new amendments to the Illicit Drugs Control Act introduced in December 2020

The Court of Appeal declined Manulevu’s appeal, saying there was no risk of a miscarriage of justice.

“A matter being proved “beyond reasonable doubt” and the jury being ‘sure’ of it, were used interchangeably, as synonyms. This ground of appeal is not established”, the recent decision said.

Justice Cooper sentenced Manulevu of Nukuhetulu to life imprisonment after he was found guilty by a jury on 10 August 2023.

“The new provisions provide that a person convicted of importing or exporting a class A illicit drug such as methamphetamine or cocaine, above a certain weight, will receive a mandatory life imprisonment sentence”. Mr Cooper said at the time.

In July 2021, the New Zealand Police and Customs located methamphetamine in a container from Tonga.

Manulevu was responsible to its owner for loading it. He was asked by the director of the operation, Ronnie Kivalu to retrieve two bags from a house at Tatakamotonga and load them into the container.

Manulevu’s admission to the house was facilitated by contact from Ronnie Kivalu’s wife Jessie Forbes to the occupier Sione Ongolea. He admitted Manulevu and Manulevu retrieved the bags. They contained the drugs which ended up in the container.

The bags were in a locked room at the house. Manulevu unlocked the room and then locked himself inside. On the evidence of Sione this was for three minutes, before emerging with the two bags and locking the door behind him.

The Appeal Court said the only issue in the case was whether Manulevu was shown beyond reasonable doubt to have known that the bags he retrieved from the house contained illicit drugs of some description. It was a circumstantial case.

Manulevu’s lawyer, David Corbett, argued, among other grounds, that the Judge was misleading the jury in the summing-up when he said: “Put all the evidence together and you can be sure he knew there was some form of illicit drugs when he put them in the container”.

However, the Court of Appeal said: “In no way was the Judge misleading or overbearing the jury”.

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