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Three years’ jail for ex-teacher

Friday 5 April 2019 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Crime


Former school teacher Tyronne Weerasinghe, 54, was sentenced to three and half years’ imprisonment by the Cook Islands High Court yesterday.

Weerasinghe had been found guilty and convicted by a 12-member jury on 59 charges of theft by conversion.

He appeared before Chief Justice Sir Hugh Williams QC.

Weerasinghe was convicted on the fact that between March 4, 2015, to February 10, 2017 in Rarotonga he did dishonestly convert for his own use the property of the Cook Islands government. That is stolen money on more than 50 occasions amounting to $30,700.

Defence counsel Wilkie Rasmussen, in his submissions for sentencing, said the defendant offered to pay reparations to the Cook Islands government.

Rasmussen said he received instructions from the defendant to check if he was entitled to withdraw his superannuation money as he would turn 55 this year.

He said the National Superannuation Office had indicated that there were exceptions to the rules.

Rasmussen said the process was underway and the defendant has around $50,000 of superannuation funds and he has asked for $30,000 for his client.

In his sentencing Chief Justice Williams said Weerasinghe in the run up to the trial faced only one global representative charge.

He said on each of the 59 occasions, Weerasinghe went each fortnight to the bank and withdrew cash - most of the $600 that was credited to his account as a result of some error or action from a government agency.

“You face the maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment on each of the 55 charges” and four charges where the “maximum sentence you face is one-year imprisonment on each”, Chief Justice Williams said.

He said Probation suggested a non-custodial sentence which was unrealistic.

Chief Justice Williams said the defendant - in evidence to police and to probation services - blamed the ministry and that because of their failure to tell him he was dismissed he was in that situation.

However, he said that for two years, fortnight by fortnight, 59 times he collected the pay and never breathed a word to the ministry.

He said Rasmussen’s suggestion on he could repay the money stolen but that was a too indefinite offer.

“If you were genuine about paying, something more concrete could have been done in your part leading up to this morning.”

Chief Justice Williams said the Crown recommended a jail sentence and there were really no mitigating factors to reduce his sentencing, but gave credit for his services in the Northern Group schools.

He sentenced Weerasinghe to three-and-half years’ imprisonment.