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Migrant exploitation sentences upheld in Court of Appeal

13 NOVEMBER 2018

The sentencing of dual Filipino/New Zealand citizen restauranteurs who exploited migrants has been upheld in the Court of Appeal.

Following a five day jury trial in the District Court at Auckland earlier this year, Mrs Virgil Balajadia and Mr Luisito Balajadia were found guilty of multiple offences under the Immigration Act. The Court of Appeal has now dismissed the couple’s appeals against their sentences.

Mr and Mrs Balajadia immigrated in 2001 and now hold New Zealand citizenship. Mrs Balajadia is the sole shareholder and director of 3 Kings Food Distributors Ltd, trading as 3 Kings Restaurant. Most of their victims, workers hired from the Philippines, had to work 12 hours a day, six days a week including cooking, cleaning the restaurant, washing dishes and assisting in the couple’s home.

The District Court described the victims as “working and living in conditions not far removed from a modern day form of slavery.”

Mrs Balajadia was described as “extremely abusive and controlling” in victim impact statements. She was convicted of two charges of exploitation of a temporary worker and five charges of providing false or misleading information to INZ in employment agreements. The District Court found a starting point of 30 months imprisonment was appropriate and Mrs Balajadia was settled on an end sentence of two years and two months’ imprisonment. The Court of Appeal described that starting point as “lenient”, and stated it could easily have been as high as 40 months imprisonment.

Mr Balajadia was convicted of two charges of exploitation of a temporary worker and two charges of providing false or misleading information to INZ. He was sentenced to eight months home detention by the District Court. His appeal against sentence was also dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal found the couple had an overarching scheme of bringing workers into the country, exercising control over them, subjecting them to inhumane and substandard working and living conditions. The Court of Appeal noted the aggravating factor of the offending was “a very high degree of premeditation: this was deliberate and repetitive offending over a sustained period; and this conduct was undertaken for the appellant’s commercial advantage.”

INZ Assistant General Manager Peter Devoy says the prosecution was the result of months of detailed investigative work by INZ and the Labour Inspectorate.

“This Court of Appeal decision sends a strong signal that migrant exploitation will not be tolerated in New Zealand and it is good to see that the Court of Appeal has viewed this offending as a serious case of deception and exploitation. We encourage anyone being forced to work in New Zealand illegally for less than the minimum wage and/or excessive hours to contact Immigration New Zealand or the Labour Inspectorate. People can also contact CrimeStoppers anonymously.”

For further information contact the media line on 0274 422 141 or email media@mbie.govt.nz

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