13 Nov 2004

US-based Tongan tried on human trafficking charges in Hawaii

1:05 pm on 13 November 2004

A Tongan businessman is on trial at the federal court in Honolulu for allegedly smuggling people from Tonga into Hawaii.

Lueleni Fetongi Maka is alleged to have forced the Tongans to work for his landscaping businesses, keeping the workers in line with beatings, and threats of deportation.

Maka faces charges of human trafficking, involuntary servitude, forced labour and unlawful use of documents.

If convicted, Maka faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for each of those charges.

Maka, a Tongan citizen living in the United States as a permanent resident, is accused of recruiting seven workers from Tonga between May 2001 up until January 2003 to work for him on Oahu.

Federal prosecutors allege that the men -- in their late teens and 20s -- arrived in Hawaii only to be exploited and forced to work through beatings and threats.

Prosecutors say Maka lured the men with offers of a better life, work and pay to send back to their families in Tonga.