Forgery charges against Member of Parliament Peseta Vaifou to be heard in full trial

The Member of Parliament for Fa’asalaleaga No. 4, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga facing two forgery charges

BY Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA: TUESDAY 19 JANUARY 2016: The Member of Parliament who claimed to own 50% of a nonu company in his civil claim, has had his application to quash 2 forgery charges against him dismissed by the Supreme Court this afternoon.

The 2 criminal charges against the MP for Fa’asalaleaga No. 4, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga will go to a substantive trial after the Chief Justice Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu dismissed his lawyers’ application to quash the charges.

Peseta is charged with 1 count of forgery and 1 of fraud in November last year.

The charges center around a document purported to be a company resolution of June 2013 allegedly signed by Martin Schwalger, one of the 3 directors and shareholders of the company.  The other shareholders are Apulu Laneselota Polu and Peseta’s son.

The document is purported to be prepared by lawyer Maiava Visekota Peteru but did not witness it and claimed to have left it with Peseta to be signed by Schwalger.

The document in question also transfers the shares held by Peseta’s son to Peseta and also transfers 50 percent of the company’s shareholding to Peseta.  The previous shareholding was 35% to Pesetas son, 32.5% to Schwalger and 32.5% to Polu.

The complaint of forgery was brought by Schwalger and Polu who both denied that a meeting of the directors and shareholders was ever held and that they never agreed to transfer their shares and that Schwalger denied ever signing the document claimed to be a company resolution.

Defense argument to quash charges
Peseta’s lawyer, Leuluaialii Olinda Woodroffe emphasized 2 reasons in their application to quash the charges, which are insufficient evidence and abuse of process by police in conducting their investigations into the matter.

Leuluaialii argued that police were only acting on the letter by the lawyer for the complainant, Mr. Semi Leung Wai and proceeded to charge Peseta when the lawyer wrote to the police.

“There are no notes of further investigation or interviews by the police,” said Leuluaialii.

She also recruited the help of 2 overseas handwriting experts to analyze the alleged forged signature.

It was however pointed out by the CJ that the two experts “were not definitive in their opinions” in the absence of an original document.

She believes there was misconduct in the police process in investigating the matter, but by leaking information to the media, hence her letter to the police in November asking police not to release the name of her client.

She argued that there is no evidence that Peseta forged the signature and the charges should be discharged.

Prosecution’s response
Prosecutor Precious Chang strongly argued that police did take further action in investigating the allegations against Peseta, and that there was a case to answer.

She then went on to provide the 2 statements from lawyer Maiava Visekota Peteru, Apulu Laneselota Polu and La’aulialemalietoa Polataivao, and a statement by an officer of the Ministry of  Commerce Industry and Labor (MCIL) who Peseta went to with the document and use it to change the company’s  shareholding register.

She also provided factors that questioned why Peseta waited 1 year to hand over the changes to the shareholders shares to be registered with MCIL.

According to arguments before the Court, the changes to the shareholding was done after the alleged Board of Directors meeting in June 2013 but were only handed over to MCIL to be registered in September 2015.

Maiava’s statements said only La’auli and Peseta were in the meeting Peseta claimed was a Board of Directors meeting. Her statement further said a copy was given to Peseta to give to Martin for his signature, because Martin was not at that meeting.

Both Apulu and Laauli’s statement denied any such Board of Directors meeting as claimed by Peseta took place and that Laauli and Peseta cannot make any decisions for the company as they were not directors or shareholders of the company at the time.

Police also gave Peseta a chance to response to their investigation, but he decided to “exercise his right to silence.”

Prosecution argued that the police did make a thorough investigation into the allegation.

Chief Justice decision
Chief Justice Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu emphasized several times that the threshold of dismissing charges based on not having enough evidence and/or abuse of process by the police is set very high and that everyone should have equal rights to hear their claims in Court.

After hearing submissions from both parties, he adjourned the case for a few minutes before delivering his decision.

“The application is dismissed and the case is to proceed to a substantive trial,” said Chief Justice Patu.

He advised both counsels to advise the Registrar should they want a full written decision with his reasons by Thursday this week but did not guarantee a written decision will be available in a fortnight’s time as he has other urgent injunctions he is working on at the moment.