A church pastor has been sentenced to home detention for lying to Immigration New Zealand, but says he was only acting "for the love of God".
Faaofo Fomai and his church, the Everlasting Gospel Church, had both pleaded guilty to four charges of supplying information to an immigration officer knowing it to be false or misleading. They were sentenced in Hastings District Court on Wednesday. Fomai was sentenced to six months' home detention. The church was fined $2000. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years' prison or a fine of $100,000.
The charges related to Fomai's dealings with a Samoan police officer, Uasi Siatulau, whom he promised a job as a youth pastor in his Hawke's Bay church. Fomai is the reverend minister of the church, which since mid-2013 held Sunday services for a small number of Samoan families in Flaxmere.
In 2015 Fomai offered Samoan policeman Uasi Siatulau work as a Youth Pastor at the church and sponsored him for a work visa as a religious worker. This was despite Fomai knowing that the charity could not afford to employ Siatulau. In order to secure the visa for Siatulau, Fomai wrote to Immigration NZ to say the church charity would pay him $700 to $800 a fortnight.
Siatulau wanted to bring his wife and four children with him to New Zealand but was told by INZ that he would need to earn more than the charity was paying. So Fomai wrote to INZ saying the salary had increased to $1350 to $1400 a fortnight.
The family was granted two-year work visas. When the family arrived in New Zealand they were housed at Fomai's home address.
It soon became apparent that Fomai and the charity would not pay the family, and Siatulau began working in an orchard in order to provide for his family. At the end of October, 2015 the family left Fomai's house and stopped attending the church. Siatulau continued working and the family had another child.
When INZ became aware of the situation in mid-2016, it advised Siatulau that he would have to resume his work as a youth pastor. He did so, but a month later Fomai told INZ that Siatulau was no longer suitable to be employed.
In June 2016 INZ made him liable for deportation. When interviewed by INZ, Fomai admitted sending letters to INZ saying the charity would pay the salary, but he also said the charity had actually never any intention of paying a salary. Fomai apologised for his actions and, according to a summary of facts, said that he had acted in the way he had "for the love of God", and he wanted to help people come to work.
Siatulau and his family were deported in April this year after an unsuccessful appeal to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal. INZ assistant general manager Peter Devoy said the prosecution showed that the organisation took this type of offending seriously.
"The overriding principle is that migrant workers have the same employment rights as all other workers in New Zealand and we will not hesitate to prosecute in cases where warranted," Devoy said.
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