Death may be first Tokelau murder

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 05:00 13/01/2013

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A man has died violently in what his widow claims is the first murder ever on New Zealand's remote and little visited South Pacific colony of Tokelau.

Malia Niu Koloi, who was with her husband Iona Koloi for 15 minutes as he died, says customary leaders known as the "grey hairs" are covering up the death which happened on Nukunonu - home to around 400 people - in the early hours of November 8.

"Everyone standing around me told me it was a fall from a balcony of three metres or so high," she says.

"But [there was] the pool of blood around his head, blood from his ears and mouth. When we finally got to the hospital the left side of his face was deeply grazed, a black eye and a hole near his temple."

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, who has responsibility for the 1200 people of Tokelau, says New Zealand Police have been involved but would not comment on the nature of the death.

"New Zealand police have provided advice on the investigation, and have offered further assistance, if required," he said.

Police chief media adviser Grant Ogilvie said New Zealand police "initiated contact with Tokelau police in November when we became aware of this matter. Our Pacific liaison officer gave advice on investigative and scene examination processes".

No charges have been laid.

Koloi's death highlights an unusual problem for Tokelau's three atolls: no coroner and no formal court. And due to a drafting error, for a long time the punishment for murder in Tokelau was a fine of $200.

The Tokelau Affairs Office in Samoa could not confirm the punishment has since been upgraded to life imprisonment, a sentence that would have to be served in Auckland. When somebody is convicted of a minor crime in Tokelau they are designated a "prisoner" and have to help police with cleaning and coffee-making but otherwise stay at home.

Malia Koloi alleges there was some kind of incident on a balcony that led to her husband's death. She said police told her her husband had earlier upset three people at a "drink up".

Koloi says that other than the injuries to his head, her husband and no other marks or injuries.

"I had suspicions to how he got his injuries . . . they didn't seem to add up," she said.

Five days after her husband was buried, local police began an investigation and a report was to have been given to the "grey hairs".

"I know my husband was not perfect but I would like to know what did he do that caused him to be dead now, and what justice can I get for my husband."

She questioned when cultural traditions stop and Tokelau governmental law takes over.

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"Does New Zealand have power in matters such as this - especially where everyone is related and there is a conflict of interest by those who are in power?"

The only other known major offence in Tokelau occurred when in 1992 a pastor, Iosua Faamaoni, admitted to sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl. He left the island voluntarily and the girl's family never laid charges.

Tokelau is 500km north of Samoa and can only be reached by a 30-hour ship voyage from Apia. Each atoll is surrounded by reefs and ships cannot dock, so people can go ashore only on small boats.

About 8000 Tokelauans or people of Tokelauan descent live in New Zealand, including Labour MP Kris Faafoi.

- Sunday Star Times

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