Samoan PM's plea for leniency with rapist

Samoa's Prime Minister made a plea for leniency for a man who avoided a rape charge for eight years after fleeing New Zealand for Samoa while on bail.

Fatu Seti was sentenced by Judge Grant Fraser in Auckland District Court today to four years and seven and a half months in prison. He had earlier been found guilty by jury trail of the 2005 rape of a 19-year-old woman on Waiheke Island.

Seti was arrested and charged with the rape but fled to Samoa while on bail by dressing as a fa'afafine and taking out a passport in a different name.

He has lived in Samoa ever since, where character references presented in court said he led an exemplary life promoting the country through his work as a fire dancer and as co-owner of a resort.

Letters from Samoa's Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House and police chief described Seti as a "great asset to Samoa", and said his absence had already been heavily felt.

The Samoan Prime Minister's letter asked the judge to be lenient: "I pray for a more lenient sentence that may allow him to return to Samoa as has been the practice by the courts in the past."

But Judge Fraser said during sentencing that Seti fleeing to Samoa was a significant aggravating factor.

"Trial was delayed by many years with the need for extradition and the delay has been highly impactive on the complainant," he said.

He said rape was always a serious, violent offence.

"The psychological impact of this offending will stay with the victim probably for the rest of her life."

The judge said the complainant had accepted a ride home about 2am after a night out in September 2005, and ended up sleeping in Seti's bed.

About 7am she woke to find Seti having sex with her.

She told him "No" and to get off her. "You then got off her without a word and went and lay on a nearby couch," the judge said.

The complainant, now 28, said after the incident she had self-harmed, began drinking a lot and got into trouble with the police.

Seti's lack of remorse had made it difficult to start the healing process, she said.

"I've been living with this for the last nine years and I was finally able to see justice done."

In sentencing, Judge Fraser took a starting point of six years, added an uplift of seven months for Seti fleeing, a discount of four months for the time spent on electronic bail, and six and a half months for remorse and good character.

He said Seti would likely be extradited back to Samoa after his release from prison.

Outside court, defence lawyer Shane Tait said Seti had booked a flight to New Zealand to hand himself in but was arrested two days before he was due to fly.

Asked why he had avoided facing the charge until then, Mr Tait said it was "just head in the sand for a few years."

- By Heather McCracken of APNZ