A couple, Tagiilima and Irene Elia, is eager to find out what has become of the “$23,800 tala” worth of personal effects, some of which they claimed had gone missing or damaged, in a container in the Apia Wharf, and the matter is now the subject of a Police investigation.
The Deputy Commissioner of Police, Papali’i Monalisa Keti, confirming the matter in question, said when she was contacted by the Samoa Observer, an investigation into it has already begun.
She also confirmed that the matter had been reported by the couple in question, against Lorenzo Fepulea’i, an employee of Betham Brothers Enterprises (B.B.E.).
The couple, Tagiilima and Irene Elia, is alleging that a storage container which they leased from Mr. Fepulea’i in 2016, to store their personal effects had been tampered with – while it was on B.B.E’s Container Yard at Vaitele - resulting in the alleged damage and theft of various items including beds, mats, leather lounge, and a washing machine, among similar properties.
Contacted for a comment, Mr. Fepulea’i declined to discuss the matter, saying it was now a subject of a Police investigation.
However, B.B.E’s Managing Director, Fuimaono Hugo Betham, told the Samoa Observer, his company could not be held responsible, since the matter was a “personal arrangement”, between the couple and an employee.
He also said: “Please note that the claim by this couple (Mr. Tagiilima and Irene Elia) had risen from a personal arrangement made between them and one of our employees.”
He went on to say: “At no time for the past two years was B.B.E. made aware of this arrangement, or had any agreement with this couple written or otherwise, to store their container in their premises.
Explained Fuimaono: “We (B.B.E.) were only made aware of this matter a few weeks back, after this couple had taken their case to the Police.
“As such, the matter was a personal arrangement, between the couple and one of our employees, and therefore, it should remain as such, without the involvement of B.B.E. Any claim should be taken up with the person involved and not the company.”
In an email, Fuimaono added that the claims opened up the “Samoa Observer to being taken to court for defamation, because of what I have outlined above.”
In response, the Samoa Observer Editor, Mata’afa Keni Lesa, said he was first alerted to the issue, late last month by the paper’s former reporter, Elizabeth Ah-Hi.
Mata’afa also said, that because of the nature of the case and the allegations involved, Elizabeth Ah-Hi was asked to contact both the Elia family, and B.B.E. company for their comments, before a story was published.
He pointed out that the newspaper’s rigorous editorial processes, to ensure balance and objectivity was maintained in the reportage, was applied so that all parties were given the opportunity, for fair comment.
However, when the story was not published, it led to Mr. Elia questioning “justice” in Samoa, as well as the relationship between B.B.E. and the Samoa Observer, according to his statement to the Police.
In a copy of Mr. Elia’s Police statement he’d provided to the Samoa Observer, he wrote: “I only wish this complaint is properly investigated so that the truth is found, and the responsible suspect, is brought to justice.”
The statement continues: “(I am) starting to doubt the justice system here, since most lawyers we have contacted so far, have declared their conflict of interest, since they are in someway, connected to the people at B.B.E.
“Worse still, a journalist at the Observer (Liz Ah Hi), who has been trying to publish this story in the Observer since two weeks ago, had failed to get the story on the paper, citing editorial interference from her superiors who she claimed, had close affiliations with the Bethams and Lorenzo.
“Liz alleged that Hugo had offered donations to an Observer charity in favor of retracting the story. She recently resigned as a matter of principle,” he said.
When this was put to Fuimaono, he responded: “Wow, this is sad. It just goes to show what this couple is really like, but I will not pass judgment and just pray for a peaceful resolution, for them. Our position remains the same and I don't have any further comment to make, on their complaints and insinuations.”
The Samoa Observer Editor, Mata’afa Keni Lesa, said Mr. Elia needs to recant his Police statement in relation to the Samoa Observer and B.B.E., because it is full of lies.
“Firstly, we don’t just publish any allegations without investigating them properly first, and giving people being accused the opportunity to respond,” he said.
“At no time did B.B.E. offer any donations to a Samoa Observer charity to retract a story. It must be stated though that B.B.E’s staff association and their business partners, donate all the time to families featured in the paper’s daily column, the Village Voice. This has been ongoing for the past four years.
As for Ms. Ah Hi’s claims, Mata’afa said she did not resign “as a matter of principle.”
He also explained: “She knows the truth. We wish her all the best in being a beautician.”
According to Mrs. Elia though, her family rented a property while they waited for their home at Vaimoso to be built; however, their rented properties at Vaitele and Tuanaimato were robbed six times, and that compelled them to look for a container they could lease, where they could store their belongings safely.
That was how they ended up with Lorenzo Fepulea’i, who was – and he still is - the Operational Manager for B.B.E.
The couple has an invoice dated May 2017 VAGST No.70921 bearing the Betham Brothers Enterprise business address, and written out to Tagiilima and Irene.
The invoice had the subject “Storage of P/Effects” and based on the handwritten details, it was for “storage of P/Effects from March 2016 to May 2017”. The total charged (inclusive of G.S.T.) was $4900.
An email dated Wednesday, August 15, 2018 which Tagiilima sent to Lorenzo listed personal effects that are allegedly missing or damaged when the container was moved and their retail price.
They include a brand new 9.5 kg Simpson washing machine ($3000), king size bed frame/mattresses ($2400), 20 fine mats ($5000-8000), white leather lounge ($2000), dining chairs ($1400), TV wall unit ($900), formal dining table ($600), dining table 2 ($1200), microwave oven ($1100), basketball rings set pieces ($700), and miscellaneous damage to fragile goods, personal boxes, kitchenware, clothes, stationery ($2500). Tagiilima claimed in his email to Lorenzo that the value of actual losses was $23,800 (excluding personal damages).
Mrs. Elia said based on reports given to them, the container with their personal effects was allegedly moved three times.
“I don’t understand why I was not contacted, when our items were being moved from one container to another.”
The family only wants to be compensated for the missing items with Mrs. Elia indicating that it was tiring and stressful for them.
“To be honest, all the unnecessary stress coming from this silly contriversy is very tiring, and yet all we wanted was to be reimbursed for the missing items. That is all that we are asking for,” she added.