Tonga Speaker’s Defense Claims No Knowledge Of Illegal Ammo

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Tonga Speaker’s Defense Denies Knowledge Of Illegal Ammo Witness claims Lord Lasike was staying in different motel room

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, July 5, 2012) – Lord Lasike, the Speaker of the Tonga Legislative Assembly appeared in the Supreme Court at Nuku'alofa, this morning for the start of his trial on one charge of possession of ammunition without a license.

Lasike, who pleaded not guilty in January, is being tried by judge alone before Chief Justice Hon Michael Dishington Scott. He is represented by counsel William Edwards Jr. Sione Sisifa is the Crown Prosecutor.

The one count of possession of ammunition is related to two .22 rifle bullets found by police on June 28, 2010, during a search warrant conducted at the Sandy Boyz Motel, Room 10, said to have been occupied by Lasike. The Crown alleged that Lasike was the occupant of the room in which the two bullets were found.

The Crown also alleged that the accused at no time had a license to own ammunition and was therefore in unlawful possession of ammunition.

Witnesses

The Crown's first witness Sergeant Latu Lavaki, a detective at the Criminal Investigation Unit at the Nuku'alofa police station, said that on June 28, 2010 they received a search warrant from the court in relation to a search for ammunition and arms intended for the residence of the noble Lasike in Kolofo'ou. A team of police officers went at 5:00pm to the Sandy Boyz Motel where Lasike stayed. He said the noble was at the motel and he read to him the search warrant, which he understood and allowed the search to be carried out.

Because the room was small only two police officers went in to search and as normal procedure the two police officers removed all items from their clothing to ensure nothing was carried in. "We required the accused to be present but instead he instructed a worker to be present," said the witness.

He said the two officers found a black gun holster and two .22 ammunition which he asked the noble about, but he answered he would answer in court. The police did not search any other rooms, before they charged the accused.

Defense

In cross examination by defense counsel William Edwards, the witness said he believed Lasike occupied that room because it was Lasike who informed him that it was his room and he instructed his worker to be present during the police search.

The defense counsel asked if anyone removed anything from the room during the search, and the witness answered yes, it was a woman named Sandra who took clothes from the room.

Rooms

Police Constable Vi in his evidence said they searched a first room on the south side of the motel, but there were no signs of anyone living in that room. Then in a second room they found two bullets in a box on a table and a black holster gun holder was found in a bathroom in that second room.

The witness said during their search Sandra came in and took clothing but he did not know if it was hers.

The defense counsel pointed out to a blow-dryer in one the pictures in the room where the bullets were found and asked the witness who it belonged to. He said he did not know, nor did he ask who the owner was.

The defense counsel suggested to the witness that it was clear that the items in the room may have not belonged to Lasike, and the witness had no response.

A third witness PC Salesi Maile who took part in the search, confirmed that he did not examine the clothes that the woman named Sandra took from the room. There were both women's and men's clothes in the room.

Defense witnesses

Lasike was the first of only two witnesses called by the defense this afternoon. The second witness was his wife Sandra Lasike.

When questioned by his counsel, Lasike said he did not occupy Room 10 as alleged and where the bullets were found by police. He said that room was occupied by Sandra who was his fiancé at the time, and he stayed in Room 7, which was not searched by police.

Lasike said he was never asked by the officers who did the search which bedroom he stayed in, and he had no idea about the bullets nor had any knowledge of the box that the bullets in which the bullets were found.

He said he owned the motel and he occupied Room 7 which was not searched by the police, and that Room 10 was then occupied by Sandra.

Lasike said that Sandra had been married before and he understood that her late husband had a license to carry firearms, and that they owned a petrol station at Touliki. He said when it closed down her belongings were brought from the petrol station at Touliki to Room 10, at the motel.

Cross examination

During questioning by Crown Prosecutor Sione Sisifa, Lasike said he was first acquainted with Sandra in 2007, and they started a de facto relationship.

"Is it correct to say that Room 10 searched was the one you shared with Sandra?", asked the prosecutor, and Lasike answered no.

Lasike denied ever telling Sgt. Latu Lavaki as to which bedroom to search nor did he point out any bedroom for the search.

"My evidence is that after police searched themselves before the going to the room, they asked for Sandra and went off with Sandra and the rest I have no knowledge of," he said.

The Crown prosecutor then asked him why did not point out his bedroom to Sgt. Lavaki.

He said the police officers came and he overheard someone say Room 10. And to him they wanted something from Room 10 and when they told him about the search, "I told them they were free to search the motel and the whole premises," he said.

The Crown prosecutor showed him a picture of a black holster found in a cupboard in the bathroom of Room 10 and a white package addressed to him located beside it.

He said yes, he recognized the package as it was Tongan kava sent by Sunia Fili from 'Eua to be mailed to Fiji in order to find a market for kava growers in 'Eua.

The Crown Prosecutor put to him that it was put in there because he stayed in that room.

Lasike said his work is making the law and he had answered once that he did not live in that room.

"If I lived in that room I would tell you but I did not live in Room 10 I stayed in Room 7, and how that packet ended up in that room I do not know. And I am not aware of the gun holster," he told the court.

He was asked was there any time he entered room 10. He said it was possible but Room 10 was like a getaway room for Sandra, she would go in and lock herself away and do her own thing, but it was possible.

Lasike denied suggestion that he spent most of his time in Room 10. We would mostly talk in my room because it was more spacious than Room 10 which is small, he said.

When the Chief Justice clarified about the search warrant dated June 28, 2010 the day of the search, Lord Lasike said that Sgt. Lavaki read the warrant to him. But said he was never shown the warrant.

The Chief Justice put to him whether he advised the officer on where to look first. Lasike said no because Sgt. Lavaki did not ask him, and that Room 7 he stayed in was not searched.

Belongings

The second witness was Sandra and in her evidence to defense counsel, she supported that of her husband and said she moved into Sandy Boyz motel in 2007.

She said before that she was self employed and was involved in a company that supplied aviation fuel in Vava'u, namely Three Star Petroleum at Touliki Gas Station.

She said she moved her belongings from Touliki Gas station to Sandy Boyz two weeks before the police search and the items included files, stationery and office furniture and the belongings were put into Room 10 which she occupied.

When she was asked about the two bullets, and was shown a picture of it in court, she said she had no idea where it came from.

Sandra said that items in Room 10 were all hers which were moved in two weeks before the search by police but had no idea of the bullets and never saw the holster bag.

She also said that Sgt. Latu Lavaki had specifically asked for her to show them Room 10. "Lasike stayed in Room 7 and I stayed in Room 10," she said.

Sandra said she was first married Stalin Naufahu who had died.

Room 10

In cross-examination by the Crown Prosecutor, she agreed that she was Lord Lasike's fiancée and that by 2010 she and Lasike, were in a de facto relationship.

However she denied sharing Room 10 with Lasike at that time.

The two officers, said in evidence they searched a first room before room 10. She said that was impossible because all rooms were occupied at that time, as it was their high traffic period.

She was then asked about the white package addressed to Lord Lasike that was found beside the black holster bag in a bathroom in Room 10. She said she recognized the package as she had told workers to put it in her room because it was kava samples to be sent to Fiji. She told the court that she had never seen the black holster that was pictured beside it.

The Crown said that it was reasonable to suggest that the package was put there because Lord Lasike also occupied room 10. Sandra denied this and said no.

The trial continues tomorrow, with final submissions from both parties, before the judge retires to deliberate on a verdict.

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