Eleven-year prison sentence ordered for man convicted in NZ's first slavery case

A man’s been jailed for 11 years for luring vulnerable people here from Samoa over more than two decades in New Zealand’s first slavery case.

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Joseph Matamata was found guilty in March of bringing vulnerable people here from Samoa. Source: 1 NEWS

Joseph Matamata was found guilty in March of 13 charges of dealing with slaves and 10 of human trafficking.

His convictions are the first for both slavery and human trafficking here.

Matamata’s trial was told some of his victims described being assaulted and were too scared to complain.

The Crown told the High Court in Napier this morning that the trial exposed a sad reality that isn’t just to be found overseas.

Matamata is now 66 and his lawyer said he had poor health which meant serving a lengthy prison term would be difficult.

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Joseph Auga Matamata’s trial is the first in New Zealand to move forward with both charges at once. Source: 1 NEWS

In its submissions at sentencing, the Crown said he led his victims to think that by coming here for horticultural work they would earn significantly more money and ensure a better future for themselves and their family.

“They were poor, mostly poorly educated and had mostly never travelled out of Samoa before,” Crown lawyer Clayton Walker said.

He said once in New Zealand, the victims were in a foreign culture and climate.

Justice Cull was told his ultimate goal was to hold onto their money, and lead them to believe they would be paid for working long and hard hours, sometimes at night wearing head torches.

There were also restrictions on where his victims could go and who they could communicate with.

The Crown said that was to make sure they did not get caught and complain to others and also to limit opportunities for family back in Samoa to ask for money.

The court was told Matamata also used actual or threatened violence and he was feared by his victims.

The offending started in 1994 and only stopped in 2017.

The Crown said Matamata shows no remorse and continues to deny any wrongdoing.

Justice Cull told Matamata all his victims were vulnerable individuals who were poorly educated, with most not speaking English and some not being able to read.

She said he brought them here on three-month visitor visas which he knew did not allow them to work in New Zealand and told Matamata it was clear he used people as slaves.

“I am satisfied you obtained material financial benefit,” she said.