This article was added by the user . TheWorldNews is not responsible for the content of the platform.

Court rejects appeal against dismissal of bribery allegations, says claims unproven

The Court of Appeal has rejected an appeal by Feleti Ulakai over a ruling dismissing allegations of bribery during an election made against Paula Piveni Piukala.

Paula Piveni Piukala. Photo/Kaniva Tonga

On February 13, 2023, Judge Cooper dismissed a petition brought by Feleti Ulakai, challenging the election of Paula Piveni Piukala on November 3, 2022. Mr Ulakai was also ordered to pay the costs.

Ulakai subsequently appealed  against those orders.

The appeal was heard by Judges Randerson, White and Morrison.

Ulakai alleged that Piukala committed bribery under Section 21 of the Electoral Act, which states that  Every person commits the offence of bribery who, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf  gives any money or valuable gift to or for any elector, or to or for any other person on behalf of any elector or to or for any other person, in order to induce any elector to vote or refrain from voting.

In their summary of the case, the judges said Ulakai had to prove beyond reasonable doubt that money or a valuable gift was given (or offered) by Piukala directly, or indirectly by someone on his behalf;  the money or gift was given (or offered) to an elector, namely a registered voter; or to another person on behalf of a registered voter, or to someone else; and the money or gift was given (or offered) in order to induce a registered voter to vote or refrain from voting

Ulakai alleged the following specified acts constituting bribery had occurred:

Someone giving money on Piukala’s behalf to electors of Tokomololo, Pea and Ha’ateiho;   and someone gave a gift such as groceries on Piukala’s behalf to electors of Tokomololo, Pea and Ha’ateiho. 

Ulakai alleged that the money giving occurred in this way:

On September 20, 2022, at the residence of Mr Fevaleaki, prizes were announced for three people participating in a poetry competition;

On October 28, 2022, at Ha’ateiho, prizes were given for participants in a poetry competition;

The prizes for poetry competitions were, in each case, from sponsors and on September 17, at the Ha’ateiho Golf Club, the respondent gave an envelope of money to Tevita ‘Eli and a person called Pita.

On October 8, 2022, two women distributed groceries to older people at Ha’ateiho, including the home of Mamata Kohinoa.

Except in the case of the money given by Piukala’s himself at the Golf Club, all other acts were of things done indirectly on his behalf.

The judges said that Ulakai added nothing of substance to his affidavit in oral evidence.

No evidence had been presented to show that an attempt had been made to verify the claims or to speak to the people involved in order to ascertain what had happened.

Nor had any effort  been made to find out whether the recipients of any prize money felt bribed or induced to vote in a particular way.

Much was made of unverified social media posts and video as evidence, but these did not in themselves prove the essential elements of the allegations.

There was evidence that the groceries had come from the charity St Vincent de Paul.

“This was a case based on circumstantial evidence,” the judges said.

“All the witnesses gave evidence based on what they saw after the event on videos or photos taken from the videos.

“With the exception of Mr Ulakai having been present when the groceries were given, no witness was actually present at any relevant time.

“No recipient of a money prize or gift was called, no sponsor of the poetry prizes was called, and the MC was not called. In fact, no evidence was given by any attendee at the poetry competitions.”

The challenge to the appeal was dismissed with costs against Ulakai.