by Lagi Keresoma
APIA: WEDNESDAY 21 AUGUST 2013: One of the country’s first bank robbers has fallen in love.
Nazario Chong Nee has fallen for fellow prisoner Punaotala Sakai.
In July the two fled Tafaigata Prison and lived as a couple at Chong Nee’s family during their nine days on the run.
Chong Nee revealed this in court where he appeared charged with escaping from lawful custody.
He and Sakai are in love and plan to marry, he told the court.
The two met in prison.
Chong Nee, then 24, was jailed for the 2010 armed robbery of the Vaitele branch of Westpac Bank with his brother Robert Newman Chong Nee and Faiga Victor Tanielu.
A fourth man charged with the robbery, Maiava Shane Chan Tong, died before his trial.
It was the first bank robbery in Samoa.
Sakai is doing time for fraud.
The lovebirds both lived in New Zealand where Sakai is a citizen.
Six years before the robbery Chong Nee was deported from New Zealand because of crimes such as trespassing, burglary and car theft, as well as traffic offences.
Sakai was born in New Zealand.
A relative of Chong Nee’s said the New Zealand High Commission is against marriage of the two prisoners because it would give the bank robber a chance of becoming a New Zealand citizen.
A claim was made that the high commission was interfering with the rights of the two prisoners.
“There is absolutely no truth to this allegation,” New Zealand High Commissioner Jackie Frizelle said.
“The NZHC has not expressed any opinion about these prisoners marrying nor would do so,” said Her Excellency.
She visited Tafaigata Prison once.
“This was because the New Zealand Corrections Services provides training to the prison staff, and we discussed prison management, we did not discuss the marital intentions of these prisoners.”
The lovebirds each had two months added to their sentences earlier in the week for escaping from custody.