A New Zealand court has sentenced a Bengali couple to jail for exploitation of migrant workers in their sweets making business.
Both of the convicted persons are New Zealand citizens, according to a New Zealand Herald report published on Friday.
The court on Thursday sentenced Mohammed Atiqul Islam to four years and five months imprisonment, while Nafisa Ahmed was jailed for two years and six months.
They were also jointly charged by immigration authorities of the country with seven offences including deceptively arranging the entry of two Bangladesh nationals. They were, however, not found guilty of human trafficking at Auckland District Court.
Islam, also known as Kafi Islam in his late 30s, was found guilty on 10 charges of exploitation and seven other immigration related offences. He was also found guilty of three other charges of attempting to divert the course of justice.
Ahmed, in her mid 30s, was jointly found guilty of seven exploitation charges relating to five victims.
When contacted over phone, an official at Bangladesh High Commission in Canberra, which maintains concurrent diplomatic responsibility to New Zealand, said the High Commission has nothing to do about the accused as both of them are New Zealand citizens.
‘An appropriate court upheld the rule of law of the country,’ said the official, adding that the High Commission would follow the court’s decision about the victims.
Their offences were uncovered after two of the chefs at the Royal Sweets Café, also known as the Royal Bengal Café, lodged complaints with the New Zealand authorities about the conditions imposed on them.
The victims reported that their passports were also confiscated immediately after they arrived in New Zealand from Bangladesh after responding to advertisements for work in Bengali newspapers.
The court heard that Islam and Ahmed did not pay workers for all the hours they worked for the shop. The victims were paid only $6 an hour.
The employees were on temporary visas. They were also encouraged by the two accused to breach their visa conditions by working more hours.
A prosecutor said some of the victims suffered swollen legs and hands.
There was an attitude for ‘the health of the business over the health of the workers,’ Jacob Parry, a prosecutor, said.
Islam’s lawyer Ron Mansfield argued a worker’s claim that they feared death was a ‘complete exaggeration.’
Ahmed’s lawyer Steven Lack said his client was less culpable because she was not involved in the day-to-day running of the business.
The lawyers called for sentences of home detention for the couple.
Judge Brooke Gibson said it was a ‘selfish manipulation of people, largely from your own community.’
The jury ‘rightly found you guilty,’ he said. ‘In some ways you were shamelessly so.’
The evidence showed the couple’s exploitation was ‘calculated and premeditated’ and conducted for commercial gain, said the judge.
The evidence showed Ahmed aided her husband’s offending and her attitude displayed the couple’s ‘arrogant and self-entitled approach to [their] employees,’ he said.
Both the accused were university educated people who have worked in the country for several years, Gibson said, adding that they were aware of New Zealand’s minimum wage laws.
New Zealand immigration official Pete Devoy said after sentencing that worker exploitation ‘erodes the dignity of the victims.’
The first human trafficking charges in New Zealand were brought in 2015.
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