Samoa's Prime Minister made a plea for leniency for a man who avoided a rape charge for eight years after fleeing New Zealand for Samoa while on bail.
Fatu Seti was sentenced by Judge Grant Fraser in the Auckland District Court yesterday to four years 7 months in prison. He had been found guilty by jury trial of the rape of a 19-year-old woman on Waiheke Island.
Seti was arrested and charged with the 2005 rape but fled to Samoa while on bail by dressing as a fa'afafine and taking out a passport in a different name. He lived in Samoa for the next eight years, where character references presented in court said he led an exemplary life promoting the country through his work as a fire dancer and as an employee of a resort.
Seti was extradited last year.
Letters from Samoa's Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House and police chief described Seti as a "great asset to Samoa", and said his absence had already been heavily felt.
The PM's letter asked the judge to be lenient: "I pray for a more lenient sentence that may allow him to return to Samoa as has been the practice by the courts in the past."
But Judge Fraser said during sentencing that Seti fleeing to Samoa was an aggravating factor.
"Trial was delayed by many years with the need for extradition and the delay has been highly impactive on the complainant."
He said rape was always a serious, violent offence. "The psychological impact of this offending will stay with the victim probably for the rest of her life."
The judge said the complainant had accepted a ride home about 2am after a night out in September 2005, and ended up sleeping in Seti's bed. About 7am she woke to find Seti having sex with her.
She told him "No" and to get off her. "You then got off her without a word and went and lay on a nearby couch," the judge said.
The complainant, now 28, said after the incident she had self-harmed, began drinking a lot and got into trouble with the police. Seti's lack of remorse had made it difficult to start the healing process, she said.
"I've been living with this for the last nine years and I was finally able to see justice done."
In sentencing, Judge Fraser took a starting point of six years, added an uplift of seven months for Seti fleeing, a discount of four months for the time spent on electronic bail, and six and a half months for remorse and good character. He said Seti would likely be extradited back to Samoa after his release.
Outside court, defence lawyer Shane Tait said Seti was arrested two days before he was due to fly to New Zealand to hand himself in. Asked why he had avoided facing the charge until then, Mr Tait said it was "just head in the sand for a few years".
• Married with a son.
• Former employee of Le Vasa resort in Apia.
• Matai (chief) of Saleimoa village.
• Convicted of 2005 rape of 19-year-old.
Friends in high places
Letter from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Fatialofa Lupesoliai Sailele Mailelegaoi:
• Seti is a "great asset to Samoa".
• Has been involved with the tourism industry for more than 25 years, and promoted the country.
• His absence has been heavily felt already.