14 October 2021, Mulinuu Apia Samoa. The trial for three former employees of Samoa Sportslotto facing charges of embezzlement and theft as a servant began in the Supreme Court before his Honour Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese this morning.
Silika Hala, Lui Feeseetai and Talosaga Wales Amosa are standing trial over claims they defrauded TMS (The Mail Service) tickets purchased by customers through the Samoa Sportlotto for the Australian Lotto. The scandal first surfaced when Silika Hala, sacked by the government-owned entity in June 2020, publicly exposed the scam on social media with claims alleging tickets purchased through Samoa Sports Lotto for the Australian Lotto, were not being transmitted.
The first witness to take the stand was Sportslotto IT Officer, Laau Tuivanu, with an explanation of how the system was allegedly defrauded.
Tuivanu testified that the accused had discovered a fault in the system where unregistered tickets could still be printed for customers. The IT Officer explained that if the system shut down unexpectedly while a receipt was being printed, the transaction would not transmit to Australia, and the ticket therefore not be registered. However, when the system was relaunched, the same receipt would continue to be printed.
The unregistered tickets would then still be given to unsuspecting customers, who walked away having paid for tickets that were in fact, not transmitted to Australia at all.
“At the bottom of those tickets, it did indicate that there was no purchase”.
Chief Justice Satiu asked if Samoa Sportslotto had a process to determine whether the receipts were invalid. The IT Officer said Samoa Sportslotto were able to verify the validity of receipts by checking them against the Australian system for incomplete transactions.
The Chief Justice again asked if the Government entity had a process to check all receipts sold for validity against the system, however, Tuivanu said that was impossible to do, however, they were able to receive reports helpful reports from the Australia system.
He informed the Court that during their investigation, Samoa Sportslotto requested and received a report from the Australian office listing all invalid and incomplete tickets.
“Each ticket has its own ID and from the report out of the Australian office, they checked the RID (Receipt Identification) numbers for the receipts during the period under investigation. The RID made it possible for them to cross out the invalid ticket,” said Tuivanu.
His Honour asked Tuivanu why Samoa Sportslotto could not then obtain records from the Australian office pertaining to the specific tickets involved in the allegations against the accused.
“Where is the report from the Australian Office?” asked the Chief Justice.
The Chief Justice then directed Prosecution to produce a copy of the Australian report, stating that it was only fair the accused’s lawyers are given the same copy.
Regarding the “invalid” receipts issued to customers, the Court heard that Samoa Sportslotto had paid out any claimed winnings, despite the receipts being invalid.
“The customers that turned up with the invalid receipts were given the option to either be refunded, or get new tickets issued free of charge,” explained Tuivanu.
The defendants were charged together with five others who pleaded guilty in September last year to charges of theft for amounts ranging between $400 and $2,300 tala. Telesia Lina Bourne of Luatuanuu, Tamara Brown of Toomatagi, Masela Moananu Masoe of Vaitele-Uta, Ulalia Sulufau of Leulumoega-Tuai and Pio Paepae of Ulutogia Aleipata all escaped jail time when they were convicted and fined by the Supreme Court in March this year.
The hearing continues in the Supreme Court of Samoa.