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Suppression lapses for Vili Laungaue, Lika Feterika, co-charged with murder of Charles Pongi at Auckland gang brawl

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Two co-defendants set to go to trial next year for the alleged murder of patched Head Hunters member Charles Pongi during a large East Auckland gang brawl can now be identified as Vili Laungaue and Lika Feterika.

The duo were initially among six men – some charged with murder, others charged with lesser offences alleged to have occurred on the same day – who had intended to seek continuing name suppression during a High Court at Auckland hearing earlier this month.

A judgment released to the Herald today indicates suppression for Laungaue and Feterika has now lapsed, while the identities of three others will be revealed next month unless those defendants opt to take their failed name suppression bids to the Court of Appeal for a second look.

Pongi, 32, was fatally shot on August 5, amid what is alleged to have been a planned brawl of about 70 people at Taurima Reserve in Pt England involving members of the Head Hunters and Rebels, as well as associates affiliated with other gangs. He was able to drive himself to Auckland City Hospital but did not survive the wound.

Police investigated the death for more than three months before making their first two arrests on November 15 – a 24-year old man from Mt Albert charged with murder and a 26-year-old Weymouth resident charged with discharging a firearm with intent to intimidate and unlawful possession with a firearm.

Feterika, a 24-year-old builder from Favona, and Laungaue, a 20-year-old Avondale resident, were charged with murder two days later. Laungaue is also charged with threatening grievous bodily harm, unlawful possession of a firearm and presenting a firearm at a person.

In her newly released decision, Justice Tracey Walker noted that Feterika and Laungaue abandoned their requests for ongoing suppression either during or before the March 14 name suppression hearing. Of the four defendants that continued to fight suppression, all but one have lost their bids.

Heavy police presence on Hill Rd, Onehunga as the funeral takes place for Charles Pongi, who was fatally shot at Taurima Reserve on August 5. Photo / NZME
Heavy police presence on Hill Rd, Onehunga as the funeral takes place for Charles Pongi, who was fatally shot at Taurima Reserve on August 5. Photo / NZME

Lawyers for some of the men argued at the hearing that their clients had safety concerns for themselves or their families if their names were to be released. The judge noted, however, that all of those still applying for suppression were on electronically monitored bail – and all but one have been remanded to homes “other than their whānau address”.

Concerns regarding “gang propensity for retribution and revenge” may be understandable, but that’s not the same as there being an evidential basis for concern, the judge said.

“The risk of retributive harm remains speculative,” Walker explained. “There is nothing that the applicants can specifically point to showing that their safety or that of their whānau is likely to be endangered. It is also difficult to accept that some seven months on from the incident, the co-defendants’ identities are not already known to that subset of society which presents the most risk to them.”

Open justice concerns are also important, the judge noted in declining the applications.

Charles Pongi died at Auckland City Hospital after he was shot in Pt England in August 2023. Photo / Supplied
Charles Pongi died at Auckland City Hospital after he was shot in Pt England in August 2023. Photo / Supplied

“Gang violence resulting in a death in a public place inevitably gives rise to heightened public interest,” she wrote in her decision. “The court should be slow in those circumstances to abrogate the public’s right to know in the absence of compelling reasons to continue suppression. No such compelling reasons are shown here.”

Pongi’s family opposed continuing suppression.

The judge did allow continuing suppression for a 26-year-old murder defendant from Ōtāhuhu, but for legal reasons unrelated to his co-defendants.

A seventh defendant – present at the reserve but never accused of having participated in the murder – pleaded guilty to assault last month and is set for sentencing next month. He did not participate in the name suppression hearing.

Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand.



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