The first person convicted of human trafficking in New Zealand has been sentenced to nine years and six months in prison.
Faroz Ali, 46, was the mastermind behind an elaborate trafficking scam that lured 15 Fijian workers to New Zealand with false promises of high wages and working visas.
Once they arrived in New Zealand they were forced to work illegally long hours for employers in Auckland and Tauranga. They had to sleep on the floor of overcrowded basements and were significantly underpaid. Some were not paid at all.
In the Auckland High Court today, Justice Paul Heath called people trafficking an "abhorrent crime" as he sentenced Ali to nine years and six months in prison and ordered him to repay the victims $28,167.
Trafficking was "a crime against human dignity", Heath said.
"It degrades human life and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms."
In the victim impact statements read out in court, the Fijian workers described how Ali talked to them "like dogs".
One worker, Suliana Vetanivula, a mother of seven daughters, wrote about how she felt ashamed when she returned home to Fiji broke and with no ability to pay back the friends or family she had borrowed money from to pay Ali's steep administration fees.
"When I go out I feel ashamed to see the people I owe in my village," Vetanivula said.
"When I returned to the village I felt like I was not wanted anymore, that everyone sees me as a failure."
During the trial in August, the jury heard how Ali, who was based in Auckland, and his wife and her sister, who were based in Fiji, had worked together over 18 months to lure workers to New Zealand and charged them up to $4000 each for administration fees, work visas, flights, accommodation and food expenses.
Some of the workers sold their family cows or borrowed thousands of dollars from friends in their village to pay the administration fees in the hopes of giving their children a better life.
Upon arrival in New Zealand, the workers only received a one-month visitor visa and their rent and food costs were deducted from the minimal wages they received.
One woman testified that she was given $25 after pruning fruit every day for three weeks.
"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.
One of the workers agreed to pay the steep fees because he believed after a few months he would have paid it back and saved enough money to fix the leaks in his house to prevent it flooding in rain.
Vetanivula, told the court she was promised $900 a week working as a fruit picker - a small fortune to her compared to the NZ$130 a week her husband earned as a taxi driver in Fiji.
When she arrived in New Zealand and was met by Ali, she was forced to sleep on the floor of the basement garage of her employer's house with two other women and one man. She asked the male worker to face the wall while she got changed in the morning and at night.
The four Fijian nationals worked almost every day for the first three weeks and when they asked their Tauranga-based employer, Jafar Kurisi, for their wages they were told they actually owed him money for rent, food and petrol.
Kurisi previously pled guilty to exploitation in relation to this case. His sentencing was pushed back to February next year because of illness.
Human trafficking is known as 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, such as human trafficking.
This was the first trafficking case the newly formed Serious Offences Unit investigated. It took more than 5000 hours and gathered hundreds of pages of evidence.
Immigration New Zealand assistant general manager Peter Devoy said the sentence was a "great result" and showed how seriously allegations of people trafficking and immigration fraud are taken.
"Justice Heath commented that people trafficking is an abhorrent crime, which degrades human dignity. This sentence is hugely significant and should act as a huge deterrent for people smugglers."
He said some of the victims borrowed a lot of money to come to New Zealand and are now heavily in debt. Others used their life savings to come to New Zealand.
"I hope today's sentences give them some degree of comfort."
The maximum penalty for human trafficking is 20 years' imprisonment and a $500,000 fine, or both.