15 Dec 2016

Jailed trafficker committed 'crime against human dignity'

6:44 pm on 15 December 2016

They were promised high wages, free food and accommodation, but instead they were paid just a fraction of what they were promised and forced to live in squalid, cramped conditions.

Feroz Ali - the man who promised the migrants everything, only to exploit them - today became the first person in New Zealand to be sentenced for people trafficking.

He had been found guilty of bringing in vulnerable Fijian workers and exploiting them.

Entrance to the High Court in Auckland

High Court in Auckland Photo: justice.govt.nz

Justice Heath sentenced Ali to nine and a half years in prison for 57 charges, including people trafficking, which he described as an "abhorrent" crime.

Ali headed an organisation that ran advertisements in a Fijian newspaper, promising people orchard and construction work in New Zealand at seven or eight times their pay.

They were charged exorbitant fees to travel to New Zealand, but when they arrived they were forced to sleep on the floor and had rent and food costs deducted from their pay.

Many returned to their homes in Fiji out of pocket, owing their friends and community hundreds of dollars.

Suliana Vetanivula was one of the workers, and her victim impact statement was read by Crown prosecutor Luke Clancy.

"When I go out I feel ashamed to see the people I owe in my village. When I came to them for help, they were ready to help me and in return I didn't do my part. When I returned to the village I felt like I was not wanted anymore, like everybody sees me as a failure.

"It was like I stole money from them because they know that whoever goes to Australia or New Zealand for work, they come back with a lot of money."

Mr Clancy said Ali had expressed no remorse whatsoever and owed the workers $128,000 in fees and outstanding wages. He said that figure did not include the profit Ali made from their labour.

Ali's lawyer, Peter Broad, said his client had no other money available and was facing bankruptcy after being pursued by the Inland Revenue Department for a $126,000 tax bill.

Justice Heath said some of the workers were sent to the Bay of Plenty for orchard work, where the accommodation was shamefully poor.

"Three married women and one married man were taken to a house near Pyes Pa and told they would be staying in the basement with other people. There was no bedding to speak of and only one mattress was available. This in July 2014, in the midst of a New Zealand winter. That must have been extremely cold for people travelling from the tropical warmth of Fiji."

In sentencing Ali, the judge ordered him to pay reparation of $28,000 to refund the fees the workers paid.

"People trafficking is an abhorrent crime. It is a crime against human dignity. It undermines the respect that all of us should have for the human rights and the autonomy of individual people. Such conduct degrades human life. It is a crime that should be condemned in the strongest possible terms."

Outside court, Stand Against Slavery chief executive Peter Mihaere said exploitation was wide-spread.

"This is the tip of the iceberg, it really is, and I think what's nice about this judgement is that it firmly and squarely says: 'It's happening here and we're actually prosecuting and we're charging and people are going to prison as a result of it.'

"So I think this is a good start. If there's anything I would want to say it is: If you are a victim out there, you really need to talk to the authorities."

Mr Mihaere said people who were being exploited could have confidence in the authorities and come forward.

Immigration NZ assistant general manager Peter Devoy agreed.

"That is the stance we take. People can come forward and we can listen to their plight, we will certainly take it seriously but we are targeting those who are exploiting the vulnerable."

Ali's co-defendant, Jafar Kurisi, had also admitted exploiting workers and was to be sentenced today but was taken to Tauranga Hospital after an emergency this morning. He will be sentenced in Tauranga in February.

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