Tongan compensation divides family


The Tongan Government has announced it will apologise to the family of a New Zealand police officer who died there after an assault in police custody four years ago.

Compensation will also be awarded to his widow, but it's created tension with other family members.

"Families are forever", said the signs at Kali Fungavaka's funeral in 2012 -- but the argument over providing for his children has also become a long-running debate.

The police officer was himself arrested in Tonga and died from an assault he received while in custody. 

His widow has just been awarded compensation and an apology from the Kingdom of Tonga, but Mr Fungavaka's first wife and mother of his five children only found out yesterday it had all been settled.

"It first came to my attention when my brother sent me a text asking if I had seen a newsfeed on Facebook, until he sent me a screen grab of article and that's how I came to know about it," she says.

The lawyer acting for the children says they planned to launch their own proceedings and he says he knows nothing of any money or apology. 

"When you say sorry, the truth is that your actions back it up," he says. "So I do want to know the numbers, but I really need to speak to the Tonga authorities to try and ascertain what on earth has happened in our absence."

A lawyer for widow Audra Watts says she was there to argue compensation only in her own case, but some of that money will go into a trust for the children.

"As part of those negotiations she has invited the children to come into the proceedings or come into the action she was contemplating bringing," he says. "For reasons only known to children and their lawyer, they declined to do so."

It's become a messy inter-family battle with neither side talking to each other.

"To give you an example of where this stands, the widow did not invite the mother and the surviving children to Kali Fungavaka's unveiling of his headstone one year after his death," says Kahungunu Barron-Afeaki, the children's lawyer. "I think that demonstrates the ravine, the gap of feelings between the parties."

Widow Audra would not appear on camera but wrote online that she had settled husband's case -- while it wouldn't bring him back, his kids would be compensated.

The timeline to launch a compensation case has come to an end and she had to act on the children's behalf or they would have got nothing, she said.