Brothers found not guilty of New Zealand's first human trafficking charges

Brothers Jaswinder Singh Sanga and Satnam Singh were found not guilty of New Zealand's first human trafficking-related ...

Brothers Jaswinder Singh Sanga and Satnam Singh were found not guilty of New Zealand's first human trafficking-related charges.

The brothers at the centre of New Zealand's first human trafficking trial have been found not guilty of the lead charges.

However, one of the brothers and another man have been found guilty of the lesser charges of making false statements to Immigration New Zealand officials.

The jury of eight women and four men delivered their verdicts in the High Court at Nelson on Sunday morning. They had been deliberating since Friday afternoon.

Jaswinder Singh Sangha, an Indian refugee living in Motueka, was found not guilty of 10 charges under the Crimes Act of arranging the entry of people into New Zealand by coercion or deception. These charges formed the basis of New Zealand's first human trafficking prosecution.

His brother Satnam Singh, also a New Zealand resident, was jointly accused of five of those charges. The jury also found him not guilty on all counts.

Jaswinder and a third man, Kulwant Singh - whose name suppression was lifted at the end of the trial - were found guilty of 11 counts of supplying false statements to a refugee status officer.

The landmark trial lasted 31 days and produced close to 2300 typed pages of evidence.

The jury heard from more than a dozen witnesses, many of whom required Indian translators, and some who were broadcast into the courtroom via Skype from as far away as Austria.

The Crown case was that Jaswinder, Satnam and Kulwant conspired together to exploit 18 Indian nationals of money.

It was alleged that, in 2008, Jaswinder and Satnam convinced the men, from Punjab state in northern India, to pay about $33,000 each on the promise of receiving two-year work visas and jobs with Blenheim-based company Mana Corp Ltd, which is now struck off. 

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The Crown alleged Satnam was the "promoter, recruiter and salesman" and Jaswinder was the "money man who came later to make the money grab".

The defendants, who both gave evidence, denied the allegations, claiming that the workers had made up their stories in a ploy to remain in New Zealand.

Witnesses said they mortgaged their homes, borrowed money and sold gold jewellery to pay for the visas, believing they were legitmate. Payments were allegedly made in cash with no receipts.

One worker told the court he was prepared to do whatever it took to get to New Zealand.

En route to New Zealand in June, 2009, the men discovered their visas were only for seven months and, on arrival in Blenheim, the jobs they had allegedly been promised fell through.

Jaswinder allegedly organised a meeting in Blenheim with Kulwant to help the workers apply for refugee status.

Some workers claimed they met the man in a motel where he asked them to sign a blank form. It was alleged Kulwant later wrote fake stories, which said the workers were fearful of violence and persecution in India, to be sent to refugee services.

The workers were then told to memorise the stories for their application interviews, the court heard.

Kulwant denied this, claiming that the workers told him their stories and he wrote them down.

The workers' applications for refugee status failed and, in 2011 - two years after they arrived in New Zealand - some of them took their complaints about the defendants to Immigration New Zealand.

Justice Robert Dobson said the defendants claimed the workers had the opporunity to fabricate a consistent story together before lodging their complaints.

They were allegedly motivated by the prospect of staying in New Zealand on the grounds that they were victims of fraud, the court heard.

 - Stuff

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