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Hawke's Bay slavery case: High Court at Napier hears workers

In New Zealand, a Samoan chief charged with slavery and trafficking treated many of his horticultural workers "like chattels". Joseph Matamata, also known as Viliamu Samu, the first person in New Zealand to face such charges, physically and verbally abused workers, many of whom were related to him, the Crown alleges.

Matamata, denies 13 charges of dealing in slaves and 11 charges of trafficking, which stemmed from bringing people from Samoa to New Zealand for horticultural work across Hawke's Bay.

At the High Court in Napier prosecutor Clayton Walker said the promises made by the accused were never delivered. One complainant, out of a total of 13 alleged victims, worked for 17 months without pay.

"He [the victim] was never paid for that work, all the money he earned was kept by Mr Matamata," Walker said. "One worker was hit numerous times by Matamata, including an assault with a stick, a power cord and a broom."

Walker said another complainant had his head smashed on the side of a table multiple times by Matamata, and also had a pair of secateurs embedded in his arm after they were thrown at him by the accused.

The prosecution alleged Matamata's claims of formalising working visas for staff also never materialised, which rendered one victim both an illegal worker and an overstayer.

Defence counsel Roger Philip said his client "… denies he enslaved anyone". He said the trial was about "an extended Samoan family and their relationships. I'll ask you to consider how the dynamics and family relationship applies".

The jury of six men and six women was sworn in yesterday. Justice Helen Cull is presiding over the trial, which is expected to last about five weeks and involve up to 45 witnesses.


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