Prosecutors in a landmark human-trafficking case say two brothers betrayed vulnerable relatives in a scam that reached from India to the vineyards of Marlborough.
Defence lawyers for three men - the first people to be charged with human trafficking in New Zealand - have countered that their clients are innocent, and at least one is the victim of "cooked-up stories".
The court later heard an alleged bureaucratic bungle caused confusion for a contracting company, leading to a compromise allowing the Indian workers to come to New Zealand.
The trial of Satnam Singh, 52, his brother Jaswinder Singh Sangha, 53, and a third man with name suppression started in the High Court at Nelson today.
The men pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) alleges the brothers helped traffic 18 Indians to work in horticulture, and the third man helped make false refugee claims.
Some of those brought to New Zealand were relatives of the brothers, Crown prosecutor Emma Riddell said today.
She said complainants were told to play along with contrived stories to garner refugee status when their promised two-year work visas never materialised.
"They should try and faint," she said workers were told. "The more drama the better, to make these stories convincing."
Ms Riddell said complainants, several of whom were illiterate, earlier paid "a large amount of money in cash" in India to the brothers for promised two-year work visas.
The amounts paid were in some cases equivalent to more than $33,000, Ms Riddell said.
The workers were later employed at vineyards in the Blenheim region, the Crown said.
But when visas expired after seven months instead of two years, the complainants were allegedly told: "Either to go back to India with no refund, or to stay in New Zealand and make a refugee claim."
Ms Riddell said the third man came from Auckland to Blenheim and devised "a false story for each complainant to accompany their refugee claim".
One of Jaswinder Singh Sangha's lawyers, Sam Wimsett of Auckland, said his client never deceived or ripped off the workers.
"He never took a cent from them."
Mr Wimsett said his client was not guilty of making any false refugee applications.
"He's not an idiot ... the defence says why would he be involved in something so stupid? He wouldn't and he wasn't ... The allegations are false, a series of largely self-serving lies, made up, as far as this case goes, pretty late in the piece."
Satnam Singh's lawyer Tony Bamford said his client rejected claims of deceitfully arranging the entry of workers to New Zealand.
"He was not involved in any arrangements for workers coming into New Zealand," Mr Bamford said. "The extent to which he was there [was] because of his friendship with a small number of the workers."
He said Singh had been a permanent resident since 2000, and enjoyed it here.
"He was happy for his friends to get the opportunity of doing the same thing."
The third man's lawyer, Steven Zindel, said his client was the victim of "cooked-up stories" the complainants contrived.
Wiebe Herder, an immigration adviser and company director who used to work for INZ, gave evidence this afternoon.
He said in 2007, an employment contracting firm, Mana Corp, applied to INZ to hire up to 25 vineyard workers.
But after confusion mounted over where Mana Corp could hire workers from, Mr Herder said a meeting in March 2009 between Mana Corp's lawyer, Jaswinder Singh Sangha, and a third person reached a compromise.
"The agreement was to allow the recruitment of up to 25 Indian nationals ... under the recognised seasonal employer's scheme."
He said the "limited purpose" visa was valid for up to seven months' work, after which workers would return home.
INZ suggested this compromise, to make up for the earlier confusion, he said.
But Mr Herder said when 23 Indians arrived in New Zealand, he learned there was actually no work for them.
Mr Herder said INZ then heard about claims made for refugee status.
The trial before Justice Robert Dobson and a jury of eight women and four men is expected to last about five weeks, and resumes tomorrow.
Punjabi and Telugu translators have been hired to help with the case.
• Jaswinder Singh Sangha: 7 charges of arranging entry into NZ by deception
• Jaswinder Singh Sangha and Satnam Singh: Jointly face 11 charges of arranging entry into NZ by deception
• Jaswinder Singh Sangha and the third man: Jointly face 36 charges relating to providing false information to a refugee status officer.