Tongan police may face murder charge

SIMON DAY
Last updated 05:00 28/08/2012
Semisi Kalisitiane Manu
Matangi Tonga
MURDER ACCUSED: Semisi Kalisitiane Manu leaves the Nuku'alofa Magistrate's Court in Tonga yesterday.
Kali Fungavaka
Fairfax NZ
VICTIM: Kali Fungavaka.

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Two Tongan police officers charged with assaulting New Zealand constable Kali Fungavaka, who later died, may have their charges upgraded, the Tongan Police Commissioner says.

"There will be an absolutely thorough and robust investigation and there is a whole lot of work still to be done. Don't assume these are the final charges," Commissioner Grant O'Fee said yesterday.

Fungavaka, a distinguished South Auckland police officer known for his work with local youth and decorated for bravery, was in Tonga to attend his grandfather's funeral.

He was arrested for drunkenness on August 18 and taken to the police cells in Nuku'alofa.

He was then allegedly beaten in two incidents, one involving two police, and then later, by a cell-mate.

The cell-mate, Semisi Kalisitiane Manu, had an initial charge of grievous bodily harm upgraded to murder in a Tongan court yesterday. The penalty for murder in Tonga is death.

Two police officers, now identified as Salesi Maile and Fatai Faletau, have been charged with common assault.

The court magistrate questioned the police prosecutor why the two policemen had not been charged with murder now that the victim had died. The prosecutor said that the officers had assaulted Fungavaka before he was put in the cells and that inquiries were continuing.

At the request of O'Fee, the Australian Federal Police will send an experienced homicide officer to oversee the investigation.

"I have complete confidence in the enquiry being led by the Assistant Police Commissioner Unga Fa'aoa, but this is such a serious case that I believe the public deserve complete transparency in the process," said O'Fee, who is a former New Zealand police inspector.

Results of the autopsy are yet to be released and O'Fee has asked for patience as the inquiry is undertaken.

"We are still gathering information and this is going to take months or maybe longer," he said.

Tonga's Attorney General Neil Adsett said the two officers would be suspended while their actions were investigated. He said it was unlikely they would lose their jobs if the assault charges were not changed.

"If it is not beyond the bounds of normal police behaviour, common assault is not a sacking offence."

Fungavaka's body was flown back to Auckland on the weekend accompanied by family.

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