15 Sep 2016

NZ's first people-trafficking conviction

5:24 pm on 15 September 2016

A man accused of trafficking vulnerable Fijian workers into New Zealand has been found guilty, in the country's first conviction of its kind.

Faroz Ali had earlier admitted eight charges of helping people breach visa conditions and 18 of not paying workers the minimum wage, on the first day of his trial in the High Court in Auckland over three weeks ago.

But he also denied charges of human trafficking and helping 16 Fijian workers enter the country illegally.

Ali stood with his hands clasped in front of him as the jury forewoman delivered all 31 guilty verdicts today.

It is the first time someone has been convicted of human trafficking in New Zealand.

During Ali's trial, the court was told the workers came to New Zealand on the promise of good wages, accommodation and food.

They had to borrow hundreds of dollars from family and friends to pay Ali, and his accomplices, 'administrative and filing fees' for the chance to work on New Zealand orchards.

But when they arrived in New Zealand, they often had to sleep on the floor and were paid just a fraction of what was promised. At least one of the workers left New Zealand owing money.

Crown prosecutor Luke Clancy said Ali's de-facto partner, Geeta, and her sister, Sanjana, listed advertisements in the local papers in Fiji - promising good money for fruit picking in New Zealand. Accommodation and food were all part of the deal.

RNZ understands New Zealand authorities have contacted their counterparts in Fiji, and passed on information on Geeta and Sanjana, but so far no arrests have been made.

The court heard how the workers also had to pay consultation and administrative fees, often totalling about $1500 Fijian.

Some of the workers borrowed money from friends and family and even their local village funds. In one case the entire village turned out to farewell the worker who was the first person to travel overseas.

By contrast, Ali is said to have made at least $100,000 by not paying minimum entitlements and holiday pay.

Court told of deportation threat

When they landed at Auckland Airport, they were often met by Ali.

They only had one month visitors' visas, despite being promised work permits.

Some slept on the floor of Ali's Papatoetoe flat and were charged rent. Ali employed a portion of the workers in his construction business.

Others went straight to orchards in the Bay of Plenty, where they would do pruning.

An airport security sign in Auckland

The workers would often be met at Auckland Airport by Ali. Photo: RNZ / Lauren Baker

The orchard workers had been promised up to $900 a week but many were only paid for the first couple of weeks and a lot less than what was promised.

One worker described Ali as only ever talking about reductions of his pay for rent, or food.

Another said when he complained about his pay, Ali threatened to report him to police and have him deported.

One of the workers returned to Fiji still owing money to their village and unable to pay it back.

When their visitors' visas expired, Ali took them to his lawyer to renew their visas. The cost of those applications was $165, but the workers were charged $500.

Ali and a co-accused, Jafar Kurisi, who pleaded guilty, will be sentenced in October.