Olivia Carville is an investigative reporter with the NZ Herald.

Human trafficking trial: Fijian woman paid $25 for three weeks' work by Faroz Ali

The Crown has alleged Faroz Ali lured 15 Fijian workers to New Zealand and exploited them upon arrival. Photo / Pool
The Crown has alleged Faroz Ali lured 15 Fijian workers to New Zealand and exploited them upon arrival. Photo / Pool

A Fijian worker was lured to New Zealand under false promises and paid only $25 after pruning fruit nearly every day for three weeks, a jury has heard.

New Zealand's second ever human trafficking trial continued in the High Court at Auckland today with Fijian national Faroz Ali, 46, facing 15 people-trafficking charges .

The Crown has alleged Ali lured 15 Fijian workers to New Zealand and exploited them upon arrival.

One of the workers, Suliana Vetanivula, told the court today she "knew something was wrong" on the first night she arrived in New Zealand in July 2014.

She had paid a travel agency in Suva around $2700 for a New Zealand work permit, flights and a week's worth of rent and food.

But, she told the jury, she never received the work permit and said she was instead told to mislead New Zealand customs officials when she arrived in the country, by saying she was visiting family on her arrival card.

The mother of seven told the court food and rent was not provided for her and three other workers when they arrived at their employer's house in Tauranga. Instead they were forced to all sleep together on the floor of his garage, she said.

"There was no bedding, nothing was provided. It was cold, there was no mattress, pillows, blankets whatsoever," Vetanivula said.

"There was nothing available for us."

She had to share the garage with two other women and one man, who she asked to face the wall when she was getting changed in the morning and at night.

"It was a bit uncomfortable, especially sleeping with a married man all together in the one room," Vetanivula said.

They worked almost every day for the first three weeks pruning at a kiwifruit orchard in Tauranga. When they asked their employer for their wages, Vetanivula said the workers were told by Ali they actually owed him money for rent, petrol and food.

He allegedly gave them $25 each, so they could buy food for the week.

Vetanivula said she had responded to a travel agency advertisement in a Fijian newspaper in April 2014 for high-paying employment in New Zealand.

She had borrowed thousands of dollars from friends and family to cover the agency's steep application fees. When Crown prosecutor Luke Clancy asked what happened when she returned home with no money, Vetanivula started crying on the stand.

"When I went back to Fiji people tended to look at me differently because I didn't have any money to pay them back," she said.

"At the moment I still owe a lot of people a lot of money."

The Crown alleges Ali's wife and sister-in-law were running the travel agency from Suva, Fiji, but Ali was "the driving force" behind it while he was living in Auckland, New Zealand.

Ali pleaded not guilty to the trafficking charges and 16 counts of coercing a person to unlawfully enter New Zealand and to remain working in the country illegally.

But the Fijian national has pleaded guilty to 26 charges of coercing a person to breach their visa conditions and exploiting employees by failing to provide holiday pay and minimum wage in the High Court yesterday.

Ali's lawyer Peter Broad told the court yesterday the defence would centre around Ali's frame of mind at the time of the alleged offending. He urged the jury to remember Ali was in Auckland when the Fijian workers arranged their employment in New Zealand.

The trial is expected to last six weeks and all 15 Fijian workers will take the stand.

- NZ Herald

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