Church Ministers unaware of new charges for not paying Government taxes

Some of the Church Ministers facing charges for not paying Government taxes pray outside court before the proceedings commenced. Photo Rula Su’a/Talamua Media

By Rula Su’a – Vaai

APIA, SAMOA – TUESDAY 26 MARCH 2019:  The lawyers for the church ministers charged for not paying taxes, were surprised to find that their clients were facing new charges that were not served before.

Defence counsel Tu’i Faasili raised it with Judge Leota Raymond Schuster that the new charges as it appeared on the particulars of the submission served by the plaintiff “do not appear on the summons that were filed before” against their clients.

The particulars in the new charges, according to Faasili include ‘new months of which the defendants failed to file their tax returns as well as their withholding tax’.

“These are new charges your Honour,” said Faasili.

Judge Leota then asked the plaintiff whether they want to file an amended submission to include the new charges. Lawyer for the plaintiff said they will file an amended submission.

The defence counsels argued that the plaintiff is duty bound to disclose all information to the defendants as a vital part of a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

Judge Leota told the plaintiff they are obliged to serve the defendants with the charges. “The defendants cannot be possibly being charged with the charges if they do not know about the charges.”

Judge Leota questioned the plaintiff whether it was an oversight on their part.

Counsel for the plaintiff, Alesana Tumua said the defendants have entered a “not guilty plea.”

However, Judge Leota pointed out that counsel for the plaintiff must be mixed up.

“It cannot be expected from the defendants to enter a plea without knowing the charges.”

Outside court counsel assisting the defense, Leilani Tamati told the media that it has been 4 months and the defendants have not been told of anything about these new charges. “The only thing that we have is the summons, and we assume that these were the actual charges,” she said.

“They knew from our submissions that we are relying on this, they failed to provide us with the disclosure because of a misunderstanding, that we have to enter a plea first. There’s no such thing,” she said.

The matter is adjourned to 11 April and the plaintiff will have an amended statement on the charges then.