The former MP for Gao/Bugotu and the caretaker Minister of Traditional Governance, Peace and Ecclesiastical Affairs, Samuel Manetoali will appear tomorrow, Thursday, in the Magistrate on retrial facing 10 charges of conversion.
The retrial was ordered by the high court last year.
In May 2023, the Chief Justice Sir Albert Palmer had ordered Manetoali to face a retrial of ten charges of conversion against him in the Magistrates Court but under a different magistrate.
The landmark decision was delivered after the Prosecution had appealed against a magistrate decision in 2019 which, ruled in favour of a submission of ‘no case’ to answer by Manetoali.
Manetoali was charged with 18 counts of conversion.
But in his judgment, Sir Albert had dismissed eight charges however ordered retrial on 10 other charges.
The charges were in relation to the payment of a $100,000 of Constituency Development Fund (CDF) on 24 December 2014 in the Gao Bugotu Constituency Account with ANZ.
However, some beneficiaries of the funds had brought the matter to court because even their names appeared as recipients they didn’t receive any funds.
In the ten charges for retrial, the funds were recorded to be given to the beneficiaries but they never received it as claimed by the MP.
For instance, under Count 4, this relates to the fraudulent conversion of $2,000 to the use or benefit of Thomas Tavake on 30th December 2014. In the acquittal report, the payment was recorded under ‘denomination’ and the recipient was recorded as Thomas Tavake. The payment was described as ‘engravement expenses’ and location was listed at Vulavu. In the evidence, it was confirmed the details of the payment as recorded in in the Payment Voucher as being made on the 30th December 2014 for the sum of $2,000 and received by Tavake for engravement of son’s gravestone.
But when asked if he was aware of the payment, Tavake denied knowledge and says he became aware of it when he received the Payment Voucher.
The Chief Justice said: “I am satisfied there is sufficient evidence to put the respondent (Manetoali) to his defence in respect of this allegation.”
Another of the ten charges, was under Count 6, in relation to the fraudulent conversion of the sum of $1,008 on the 2nd of January 2015 paid to the use of Chief Davis Maneboro.
In the acquittal report, it comes under ‘general’ payments, the recipient was listed as Chief Maneboro, the payment was described as 3 cartons of beer and the location was listed as Rasa. The evidence confirmed the details of the payment in the Payment Voucher being made on 2nd January 2015 to Chief Davis Maneboro on his behalf by Isaac Leguvaka. But Maneboro also denied knowledge of the payment and only became aware of it when he received the Payment Voucher.
Sir Albert said then in this payment, it is extremely difficult to appreciate how much payment of money for three cartons of beer can be regarded as beneficial, productive or even developmental in terms of improving the livelihood and lifestyles of members of the constituency.
“I am satisfied the respondent (Manetoali) does have a case to answer in respect of this payment,” said the chief Justice.
These are just details of the two of the ten counts that the Manetoali will face in his retrial that starts tomorrow at the Central Magistrate.
Sir Albert said: “Having considered the submission by the appellant for orders that the matter be remitted back to the Magistrates Court before a different magistrate for retrial.”