Rugby star Finau Maka is known as a “nice guy,” and for his flamboyant hairdos. A Tonga national, he played in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, and until recently, was a member of the first division French team, Stade Toulousain. Today, he stands before a French judge, accused of enslaving a Tunisian man for four years.
Last April, a Tunisian national known as Moncef Derbali filed an official complaint against Maka. An investigation ensued the following month, leading to the rugby star’s arrest. Maka was later released. Today is the first day of his trial.
Maka has claimed his innocence. At a press conference last May, he said he was only offering charity to Moncef.
“He was homeless, he begged me to help him… He had no family in France, no money, no shelter… as a Tongan it is a part of our culture to care and help people in need.”
Moncef’s lawyer told the New Zealand Herald, “nothing explains why [Maka] housed someone in a small hut at the bottom of the garden without running water or electricity, nothing explains why he used the services of someone without paying them for four years, or paying only €2000, nothing explains his behavior in giving this man only a sandwich a day and the fact that he used him from 7 in the morning to 10 at night.”
Moncef put it bluntly in an interview with the Toulouse newspaper La Depeche: “I was Finau’s slave for four years.”
The accusations of slavery have hurt Maka’s career. He no longer plays in the first division Toulouse team. And, one commentator speculates, “Maka’s goal is to play the World Cup next year in New Zealand and if he will be recognized [as] guilty I think his game will be over.”
UPDATE: Maka’s arrest last May roughly coincided with the first modern day slavery case to occur in Tonga—Maka’s home country. A Chinese woman was taken into custody and charged with human trafficking, for luring women into the country with promises of waitressing work, but instead, forcing them into sex slavery.