The Office of the Attorney General has engaged Crown Prosecutors from Auckland to prosecute a criminal case against a former Cabinet Minister and four other defendants.
La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt, Heather Tupea Schmidt, Apulu Lance Polu, Martin Schwalger and Tuitui Aipulupo face a total of 233 criminal charges in relation to an on-going dispute over a nonu company, involving another senior member of the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P) and Associate Minister of the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga.
In response to questions from the Samoa Observer, Attorney General Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff said the engagement of overseas lawyers are steps taken to ensure justice is served and any conflicts of interest are eliminated.
“It is the appropriate step to take in this particular case, to ensure that justice is seen to be done, from the point of view of prosecuting this matter fairly and objectively,” he said.
According to the criminal charge sheet, La’aulialemalietoa is facing one count of alleged forgery, 40 charges of alleged theft, 16 for allegedly obtaining by deception, 16 counts of allegedly causing loss by deception and 88 charges of alleged theft by a person in a special relationship.
Heather Tupea Schmidt, Owner of Talamua Media, Apulu Lance Polu, Martin Schwalger and Tuitui Aipulupo are also facing various charges. Lemalu said it is normal for the Attorney General to engage lawyers outside the office and is a practice that his peers do when necessary in other jurisdictions.
“The purpose is to remove any conflicts of interest and where the cases are set to take lengthy periods, it assists the Office given the high volume and urgency of all the cases carried by the team,” he said.
In relation to the substantive matter, lawyers within the Office of Attorney General had conflicts of interest, hence the decision to outsource the job - though Crown Prosecutors of South Auckland will work with a lawyer from the Office of the Attorney General.
“But there is a lawyer from this office assigned to the file, working with the engaged lawyers. In terms of volume, the hearing is estimated to take four or more weeks with over 30 files, and over 200 charges to carry. Therefore, the Crown Prosecutors of South Auckland have been engaged.”
The engagement of foreign lawyers is not the first for the Office of Attorney General, with Lemalu indicating that it has happened before.
“For overseas prosecution assistance, this dates back to past cases such as Meredith Connell, Crown Law Auckland, prosecuting the matter related to the death of a late Cabinet Minister.”
In terms of how much it will cost taxpayers to engage the New Zealand-based lawyers, the Attorney General did not specify except to say that their engagement was within their budget.
The case in question had since been adjourned to an undisclosed date.