Former MP fined $20,000 for uttering a forged document

Former MP Muagututagata Peter Ah Him who resigned two weeks ago ahead of sentence

APIA: MONDAY 02 MARCH 2015: The former Samoan Member of Parliament and businessman who resigned from parliament two weeks ago ahead of his sentencing for uttering a forged document, has been fined $20,000 by the Supreme Court late this afternoon.

In delivering sentence, Supreme Court Judge, Justice Vui Clarence Nelson said that the offences the defendant was found guilty of was not forgery which was carried out by his wife.

But “uttering” a forged document or “making use” of forged document. In this case the bogus Invoice 4850 to obtain a valuable security viz a cheque of $62,000 from Grand Ocean. $32,000 of which was valid reimbursement of the expenses incurred in clearing their containers and $30,000 of which was for the defendants’ undisclosed fee for “special services” rendered by him and the company owned by him and his wife.

The offences occurred between 01 January 2013 and March 2013 attempt by the defendant to defraud his partners of some $30,000. Uttering a forged document carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment and obtaining by false pretence a maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment.

The defendant was sentenced under the Crimes Ordinance 1961 and not the Crimes Act 2013 which was passed after the offences were committed.

Defence counsel submitted that the $30,000 as services rendered under Invoice 4850 were not infact “bogus” but the manner of invoicing. Justice Vui said that this “left a lot to be desired” and surely an understatement.

In July 2014, counsel for Grand Ocean Mr. Katopau indicated Grand Oceans desire to withdraw all charges against the defendant because “the matter has been resolved between the parties”. Mr Katopau in his evidence indicated that the Attorney General on behalf of the Police declined his clients request and directed the matter to proceed.

Justice Vui said the charges do not in any way shape or form belong to Grand Ocean but to the Police who laid them and the Attorney General was “quite entitled and arguably duty bound to do” in directing the matter to proceed.

Defence also submitted on the defendants “clean criminal record at age 59 years, his distinguished background of service public and private over the past 25 years as a resident of this country to his family and community church and Government detailed in his pre-sentence report, evidenced by the numerous character references.

“I accept the defendant has and will continue to endure many effects of his offending,” said Justice Vui. “It has tarnished his personal and business reputation, affected him socially and probably financially and has ruined at least in the short term a bright political career.

“But those are consequences he has brought upon his own head. Regrettably with the exception of his wife, they have been visited upon his family as well. They are with the families of many defendants the innocent debris of the offending.”

Justice Vui then ruled out an imprisonment sentence.

“This is a case of one-off offending by a defendant who considered himself entitled to recompense for services to the complainant company. That may well have been the case but his methodology was flawed, fraudulent and in breach of criminal law. Something for which he has paid and will continue to pay.”

He also ruled out discharging the defendant without conviction. “Fraud is a serious crime. Moreso when committed by persons of high office.” Justice Vui quoted Judge Malosi in the case of Police v Lima (2014) “A higher degree of behaviour is expected from those in privileged positions.”

He then told the defendant “The entering of a conviction on your record is entirely appropriate given the seriousness of the offending and is not of itself “a hardship out of proportion to the particular circumstances.”

“As to an appropriate sentence, I am of the view a monetary fine is appropriate. I note the counsels indication his client is in a position to meet “a hefty fine.” The information available on the defendants financial status likewise reinforces his ability to meet monetary penalties even of a significant nature.

Justice Vui then convicted Muagututagata on two charges and fined him $10,000 to be paid by 1200 Wednesday 04 March, in default of payment 6 months imprisonment per charge.

In addition, he will pay $6,000 prosecution costs, $3,000 court costs and $1,000 probation costs. In default of payment by 1200 noon 04 March a further 6 months in prison.

A large number of the former MPs supporters from his village were in court and he declined to make any comments to the media after he was sentenced.

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