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Chief lured Samoans to New Zealand to be slaves

Guilty: Joseph Matamata brought fellow Samoans to New Zealand and made them his slaves

A SAMOAN chief has been found guilty of trafficking 13 of his Pacific island countrymen and turning them into slaves in New Zealand.

Joseph Matamata, 65, preyed on victims as young as 12 from 1994 to last year, promising them paid horticultural work and schooling, a trial heard.

But many were forced to work seven days a week without holiday and required to give everything they earned to Matamata.

At Napier High Court in New Zealand, defence lawyer Roger Philip argued it was typical in Samoan culture for household members to pool wages under the guidance of a chief.

But Matamata’s victims said they were only let out of his house to work and were not allowed to speak to their families without permission.

They also faced regular verbal and physical abuse if they worked too slowly or did not perform jobs to Matamata’s standards, they said.

Matamata claimed the locked fence around his home was to ‘protect his family’ in a rough neighbourhood and said the complainants lied or were ‘confused’ about what happened.

He is the first person in New Zealand to be convicted of both slavery and trafficking, and faces up to 20 years in jail when he is sentenced in May.