After a marathon five-week trial horticultural "slave master" Joseph Auga Matamata has been found guilty on 23 out of 24 charges of dealing in slaves and human trafficking.

At the High Court in Napier on Tuesday, a jury of six women and five men found the Samoan chief, or matai, guilty on all but one charge relating to trafficking.

He was initially facing 11 charges of trafficking and 13 charges of dealing in slaves.

The Hastings-based 65-year old's offending spanned 25 years from late 1994 to April 2019.


He was remanded in custody until his sentencing on May 6.

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The Crown, which closed its case last Thursday, argued throughout the lengthy trial before Justice Helen Cull, that Matamata deceived all 13 complainants into coming to New Zealand by promising them, or their parents in Samoa, paid work or schooling.

The court heard from Crown prosecutor Clayton Walker that Matamata paid for their flights, visas and passports.

But when they arrived they worked long hours for no pay, had to comply with strict rules, and were often beaten or threatened with physical abuse if they didn't complete their chores to Matamata's liking, Walker said.

"The idea is that in each case he was leading them to believe they were coming to New Zealand to earn money for the betterment of themselves and their families," Walker said.

"He led them to believe they were coming over to get money. He intended to keep the money, as the evidence shows he did. The Crown says he kept a huge amount of their income."

Defence counsel Roger Philip argued during his closing statements on Monday that Matamata was still "strongly rooted in Samoan culture" as a matai, or chief, and he had treated the complainants as family by providing them with food and shelter.


He said the complainants were free to leave the property or take part in sport or go to church.

"If he was a slave master, why [were] these men allowed to go and play rugby, attend sport, go and share meals with other guests who came to the house, walk the streets, buy alcohol, take a vehicle to work without Mr Matamata?"

Philip said the complainants appeared to be motivated by money.

He also questioned why people from the same village kept arriving from Samoa to stay with Matamata and his family over the 23-year period if they were treated badly.

"Surely in a small community that information would spread."

Following Tuesday's guilty verdicts, Immigration NZ general manager of verification and compliance, Stephen Vaughan, said it was the result of a thorough joint investigation by it and the New Zealand Police, with help from other Government agencies and Samoan authorities.


"I would also like to thank the victims for their bravery during this protracted investigation and trial. This has been a very difficult time for the victims involved who have all been informed of the result."

Each slavery charge carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison while the human trafficking charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison or a $500,000 fine.