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Back to the news list Slave dealer Joseph Matamata jailed for 11 years
27 July 2020 - Media Release - Stuff NZ

The case of slave trader Joseph Matamata exposed the “sad reality” that human trafficking and slavery were not just overseas problems, and a stern sentence was required, the Crown said at his sentencing on Monday.

Matamata, 66, was sentenced to 11 years by Justice Helen Cull in the High Court at Napier after being found guilty after a jury trial in March of 10 charges of trafficking people and 13 charges of dealing in slaves.

A reparation order of $183,000 was also made against Matamata.

Crown lawyer Clayton Walker told Justice Cull that Matamata’s offending “exposed the sad reality that human trafficking and slavery are not just overseas problems, but exist here in New Zealand”.

Walker said Matamata’s offending was “hidden in plain sight”, and had at its heart “exploitation by deception then enforced through control and abuse”.


Over 24 years he lured Samoan citizens to New Zealand by leading them to believe they would earn big money, then reduced them to “chattels”, exposing them to degradation, and humiliation for his own financial gain.

His victims returned to Samoa with nothing, while he had derived a financial benefit from their work of at least $323,000, Walker said.

He was trusted by his victims due to his position as chief, or matai, in Samoa, and they believed, wrongly, that he would ensure they were in the country legally.

Walker dismissed Matamata’s claim that his offending could be explained as “cultural”.

“The Samoan culture does not condone the type of violence and ill-treatment he inflicted,” Walker said.

This was the first time someone had been sentenced in New Zealand for using someone as a slave.

Walker noted Matamata’s previous sentences for violent offending, and his lack of remorse, both of which called for an uplift to his sentence.

Matamata’s lawyer Roger Philip said the jury’s verdict came as a “deep disappointment” to Matamata, who believed he had acted appropriately.

Philip said Matamata had acted as a “father figure” to the victims, and was someone with a “stoic” belief in his religion.

He also asked the judge to take into account the fact that Matamata had paid $215,000 required under a forfeiture order made last month.

Justice Cull told Matamata he knowingly misled his vulnerable victims with false promises, and abused his position of trust as a chief.

He controlled the victims, who lived on his property, and required them to carry out daily chores and not to communicate with anyone, she said.

He created a climate of fear and there was no doubt he had assaulted his victims as they claimed in the trial, she said.

A recurrent theme in the victim impact statements was deep sense of shame, guilt, and sadness that they had not been able to provide for their families, she said.

She said trafficking and dealing in slaves were among the worst crimes and there was a strong call for a sentence that deterred others.

She noted his numerous previous offences for assault and violence, and took into account the forfeiture order, before sentencing him to 11 years jail.

Justice Cull did not discount the sentence for cultural reasons, as sought by Matamata.

Matamata’s offending occurred between late 1994 and April last year and involved 13 victims.

He has been in custody since the guilty verdicts were reached after a five-week jury trial.

Matamata claimed the money earned by the complainants' work was paid into his own bank account, because his household was run as "a family unit" and everything everyone earned was used to pay for all bills.

But once here they were exploited by Matamata for his financial gain. He would take workers to orchards or work sites and receive "bags of cash" as payment for their work but would never pass it on to them.

The trial heard evidence from numerous victims, including:

* A woman, who was 15 at the time, described being beaten by Matamata and thrown into a car and driven from Auckland to Hastings with her hands and feet tied.

* A 54-year-old Samoan man who worked for Matamata for 17 months without being paid. He worked long days six to seven days a week in the horticultural industry. The man spent nearly the full 17 months at work or behind a padlocked perimeter fence at Matamata's Hastings address. He was not allowed out without permission and was not allowed to talk to others. When not working he had to do chores for Matamata.

* A teenager who described working until 11pm with head torches and being beaten with a stick by Matamata if he worked too slowly. His 12-year-old cousin was once hit so hard with a pair of secateurs they got lodged in his upper arm, he told the court.

* A woman who said Matamata threatened to kill her teenaged nephew after he escaped Matamata's house in 1996.

Last month the Crown successfully applied for a forfeiture order against Matamata.

After a hearing on June 23 Justice Cull said she was satisfied that two adjoining properties on Kiwi St., Hastings, were "instruments of crime" under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act because they were used by Matamata to carry out his offending.

Matamata was to pay $215,000 to the Crown by July 24, she ordered.

It was paid last Wednesday.


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