First human trafficking convictions in NZSave
By Olivia Carville
They were sold a dream: working in New Zealand and earning almost seven times their weekly wages in Fiji.
But, upon arrival into Auckland the false promises quickly unravelled.
They were forced to work illegally for long hours, sleep on the floor of overcrowded basements and were paid little, if anything.
Faroz Ali, 46, was the mastermind behind an elaborate human trafficking scam that enticed and exploited Fijian workers in New Zealand, and was today convicted after a three week trial in Auckland's High Court.
Ali was found guilty of 15 people trafficking charges and guilty of 15 charges for aiding and abetting a person to unlawfully enter New Zealand. He was also found guilty of one charge for aiding and abetting a person to remain unlawfully in New Zealand.
At the beginning of the trial, Ali, a Fijian national with New Zealand residency, pleaded guilty to 26 charges of helping people breach their visa conditions and not paying his employees the minimum wage.
Peter Mihaere: NZers will be surprised at human trafficking levels
The 15 Fijian workers who fell victim to the scam were lured to New Zealand on the promise of $900 per week picking fruit.
They sold their family cows and borrowed thousands of dollars from their villages for the chance to work in high-paying jobs in New Zealand and give their families a better life.
They returned home empty-pocketed and ashamed.
This result marks the first successful trafficking prosecution in New Zealand history.
The maximum penalty for a human trafficking conviction is a prison sentence of 20 years imprisonment and a $500,000 fine, or both.
Human trafficking is the movement, deception or coercion of people for the purposes of exploitation.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) recently vowed to crackdown on migrant worker exploitation and established a team of four ex-detectives to investigate top tier immigration offences.
This was the first trafficking case the newly formed Serious Offences Unit investigated. It took over 5000 hours and they gathered hundreds of pages of evidence.
One of the lead investigators, Carl Knight, travelled to Fiji a number of times and said many of the exploited workers lived in primitive conditions; some were from villages with only one tap with running water.
"This case was pretty bad when you look at the context of where these people lived and the sacrifices they made to get here," Knight told the Herald.
"They will never have the ability to pay this money back," he said.
The workers were enticed to New Zealand by advertisements in the Fiji Sun newspaper touting high-paying employment that were placed by travel agencies run by Ali's wife and her twin sister.
During the course of the trial, the jury heard how Ali and the two sisters had worked together to lure the workers to New Zealand and charged them up to $4000 each for administration fees, work visas, flights, accommodation and food expenses.
The reality was the workers only received a one month visitor visa and their rent and food costs were deducted from the minimal wages they received when they arrived.
One woman testified that she was given $25 after pruning fruit every day for three weeks.
When one of the workers questioned Ali about the lack of pay, he said he was threatened with deportation.
"It was a rip off, man. It was a lie," one of the witnesses testified at the trial.
"We were made fools. All of us," another said.
Richard Small: Trafficking conviction 'tip of the iceberg'
The two sisters in Fiji recruited the workers, while Ali collected them from Auckland airport and put them to work either on his various construction sites in the city or sent them down to kiwifruit orchards in Tauranga.
"This was a rort, it was a scam and all three were in on it," Crown prosecutor Luke Clancy told the jury during his closing address.
These workers were "established middle-aged men and women with families" and their sole purpose was to come here and work to send money back home to improve the lives of their families, Clancy said.