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By Alan Ah Mu

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, March 12) - The United States of America does not understand our adoption system, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoli’ai Sa’ilele Malielegaoi said.

"They think we only have customary adoption," Tuilaepa said.

The Prime Minister was commenting for the first time on the prosecution of the founders and staff of adoption agency Focus on Children.

They have been accused of various charges founded on alleged conspiracy and fraud.

The charges are in connection with the adoption of Samoan children by FOC. Included amongst the accused are two Samoan citizens who worked with FOC.

Since they laid charges against FOC founders, Scott and Karen Banks, and others who worked for the agency, the U.S. authorities have told the US media of their intention to request the extradition of two Samoan citizens as defendants in their prosecution.

As of Friday late afternoon, Prime Minister Tuilaepa said he has yet to receive such a request.

Checks made during the week with the Ministry of Police, Foreign Affairs and Ministry Justice and Courts Administration confirmed that they too have not heard from US authorities.

But speaking about the intention to ask for the extradition of two Samoans accused, the Prime Minister said:

"In things like this, we have no special relationship (with the US) in terms of movements like that."

Tuilaepa has said the US and Samoa have no extradition treaty, whereby citizens of both countries wanted by the other for criminal charges, are handed over to the country that asks.

[PIR editor’s note: According to a recent story in the Utah newspaper Deseret News, local TV station ABC 4 reported that Focus co-owner Karen Banks denied any wrongdoing and said the adoption agency had "worked through the most respected attorneys in Samoa, one of whom is now the country’s Attorney General." The current Samoa Attorney General is Ming Leung Wai, appointed last November and at 33 the youngest lawyer appointed to the top job. Leung Wai replaced New Zealand-based lawyer Leuatea Peseta Iosefa, who had been appointed a week earlier but was recalled because he was reportedly convicted of assaulting a debt collector last year.]

The US has issued international warrants of arrest for Tagaloa Ieti and Julie Tuiletufuga, both Samoan citizens, who were both involved with FOC at certain stages of the agency’s presence in Samoa.

Tagaloa ran FOC’s nanny house at Ululoloa with his wife.

Mrs. Tuiletufuga’s house was a previous nanny house but she parted with FOC perhaps in 2000 to take up a job elsewhere.

FOC’s lawyer Patrick Fepulea’i cannot fathom why US authorities have laid charges against her.

She has declined to issue a statement about her indictment.

Mr. Fepulea’i said a US State Department lawyer came here last year with a US Attorney lawyer and everything about the adoption process here was explained to them.

He rubbishes claims that Samoan babies were sold to US couples, or that any were smuggled out of the country.

Joined by Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration, Masinalupe Tusipa Masinalupe, Mr. Fepulea’i is upset that the charges laid in the US make it appear as if there was no legal process involved in adoption cases in Samoa.

Both are concerned that the integrity of the Court and the lawyers involved in adoption cases are being put in a bad light.

The reports say couples were asked to pay US$13,000 per adopted child and US $20,000 for two.

Fepulea’i said money given by couples to FOC was for expenses including legal fees.

There are reports that adopting couples were discouraged from coming to Samoa.

Fepulea’i said it was cheaper and easier for couples to meet with an FOC representative who would bring a child to Auckland, New Zealand.

He recalls one couple who were stuck here because of flight shortages who stayed three weeks at Aggie Grey’s Hotel.

There were more connecting flights to the US from New Zealand, he said.

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