Cultural beliefs save woman from $100k fraud
A Hamilton woman has used the Samoan cultural tradition that the man of the house should look after the family's financial affairs to successfully defend fraud charges of more than $100,000.
In the Hamilton District Court yesterday, Siufaga Leilua, 58, was found not guilty on 16 charges of using a document for pecuniary advantage, namely Housing New Zealand income-related rent forms, between September 2000 and December 2011.
Leilua and her husband, Ieli, who died in November 2011, both worked part time as cleaners at Hamilton Boys' High School. Mrs Leilua also worked full time, between midnight and 8am, at Selwyn Wilson Carlile Rest Home.
Dale Dufty, prosecuting on behalf of Housing NZ, alleged Leilua failed to disclose her income to Housing NZ, thereby being ineligible for income-related rent.
Abhiram Dasgupta, Housing NZ income-related rent specialist, said in total Leilua received an extra $101,650 over the alleged offending period.
Giving evidence before Judge Arthur Tompkins, Housing NZ investigator Joanne Tilley discovered Leilua had two different IRD numbers and alleged one was for a Work and Income benefit and the other for employers. The second IRD number was under the name Fonga Leilua.
But when Mrs Leilua took to the stand, she said one of the IRD numbers was hers and the other - where the Winz payments were going - was used by her husband.
When questioned why she didn't put her income on the Housing NZ forms by her counsel Roger Laybourn, Leilua said she left it to her husband to look after their finances.
Leilua said her husband was used to dealing with financial matters as he was the secretary of the Samoan Congregational Church in Hamilton and often helped the treasurer.
Leilua said it was also part of Samoan culture for the man of the house - or "chief" - to look after financial affairs.
In questioning by Mr Dufty, Mrs Leilua denied that she received a benefit and if there was documentation saying she was, it must have gone straight to her husband.
Mr Laybourn said Housing NZ hadn't proved beyond reasonable doubt that his client had acted dishonestly and with intent to obtain a pecuniary advantage.
Judge Arthur Tompkins agreed with Mr Laybourn's submission and Mrs Leilua's evidence that her husband would have handled their financial affairs, given their Samoan culture.
Judge Tompkins found that Mrs Leilua's husband was the person who had acted dishonestly and committed the fraud.
Outside court, Mrs Leilua's daughter, Moana, 35, said the family was "just over the moon, and really elated" by the decision.
As for her father being labelled a fraudster, she felt he was probably only wanting what was best for their family.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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