Soldier sentenced over assaults still in army, despite saying he would leave

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A soldier sentenced to military detention for multiple assault charges is still serving in the New Zealand Army, despite him telling a court he would leave.

New Zealand Army soldiers inside an Australian Army vehicle during the mission rehearsal exercise for Task Group Taji 3 at RAAF Edinburgh, with about 300 Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen prepared for deployment to Iraq in exercise at RAAF Edinburgh in Adelaide, South Australia.

Photo: NZDF / Supplied

Private Manu Taufa was sentenced to 28 days military detention at Burnham in October last year, after pleading guilty to four charges of assault.

At the court martial, he told the judge that he would leave the army at the end of his sentence, but RNZ can reveal that he is still serving at the Burnham Military Camp, nearly a year on.

Taufa, was charged with four offences against the Armed Forces Discipline Act, and all related to violence against subordinates.

The first charge came about after he kicked a subordinate in the back in order to deliver punishment, and because of the injuries, the victim was unable to complete his Corps Training.

Two of the charges related to one incident in Tekapo, when Taufa shoulder-charged another soldier, then hit him on the back of the head with the butt of a Steyr rifle.

The final charge related to Taufa grabbing a trooper by the throat, picking him up and throwing him on the ground.

He then strangled the trooper for 10 seconds, leaving him unable to breathe.

This wasn’t the first time Taufa had landed himself in trouble.

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In 2012, he was convicted for assault with an axe, and was demoted from Lance Corporal to Corporal. His most recent offending saw him demoted to Private.

At his most recent sentencing, Taufa told the court that he would leave the army at the end of his sentence to become a rugby coach in China.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge Kevin Riordan said that he would take Taufa’s word on that.

In his words, the judge said “…to what avail is it to dismiss somebody when it is clear that they are leaving the Armed Forces anyway”?

Although dismissal was not officially handed down, the judge summed up that the Private gave an impression that he would leave the army shortly after his detention.

The Defence Force said Private Taufa’s plans had been impacted by Covid-19.

“Despite this, his intention is still to leave the Army in the future,” a Defence Force spokesperson said.

His 28-day sentence was handed down on 10 October and the World Health Organisation was first made aware of cases of the then- unidentified virus on 31 December.

RNZ put those dates to the Defence Force, but it declined to comment further about Taufa’s departure, citing privacy reasons.

However, it confirmed Taufa’s victims had been informed about the situation.

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RNZ first made inquiries about Private Taufa’s ongoing involvement in the Defence Force on 21 May, and the victims were first told between 29 May and 4 June.

The Defence Force also blamed Covid-19 for this, saying it affected when the victims could be told.

“The timing has been dictated by Covid-19 restrictions both here and in China. The NZDF needed to understand the evolving situation, including his employment prospects in China, before informing them fully,” a spokesperson said.

“Support services have been available to the victims since the court martial.”

Taufa’s unit has also had a number of other complaints relating to poor behaviour.

According to an Official Information Act obtained by RNZ, in a two year period from May 2018, there have been 16 complaints of bullying, harassment and assault in the 2nd/1st Battalion of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment.

That doesn’t include two complaints against Taufa.

Two of the 16 complaints involved civilian victims.

The Battalion has almost 480 personnel.

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