The first person in New Zealand to be convicted of people trafficking has been jailed for nine years and six months.
Faroz Ali,46, appeared for sentence at the High Court at Auckland on Thursday after being found guilty at trial of more than two dozen counts of human trafficking and aiding and abetting Fijian workers to enter and remain in the country illegally.
He also pleaded guilty to 18 charges of exploitation and eight charges of aiding and abetting the workers to breach their visas. There were 57 charges in total.
t was the first time someone had been convicted of people trafficking in New Zealand. The maximum penalty is 20 years imprisonment.
They were promised high wages and free food and accommodation in New Zealand but the victims all gave evidence that on arrival they were given rudimentary sleeping arrangements, no food, and worked for little money.
In total 15 workers were trafficked to New Zealand, and one already living in the country illegally was exploited.
Justice Paul Heath was told the 16 workers were owed $128,000 in unpaid wages and fees they had paid to the Fijian travel agency.
That figure didn't include the profit Ali would have made by exploiting the workers to orchards in Tauranga, and within his own Auckland gib business.
Ali had no assets to speak of, except for a van, and was applying for bankruptcy. He also owed Inland Revenue $126,000 and could only repay the workers the equivalent of $9000, the court was told.
Crown prosecutor Luke Clancy said aggravating factors in Ali's offending included his premeditation, his commercial gain, the scale - 16 victims over 18 months - and the harm caused to the victims.
In a victim impact statement Fijian woman Suliana Vetanivula said she had borrowed large sums of money from friends and family to pay the travel agency, but had returned to her country with just $300 despite working for weeks.
"When I go out I feel ashamed to see the people I owe in my village. When I returned to the village I felt like I wasn't wanted anymore. It was like I stole money from them," she said.
Another worker, Siose Matia, told the court Ali had treated him and the other workers very badly, and he wanted to forget what happened.
Ali knew the man didn't have a work permit but that he was desperate for money and knew he wouldn't complain to authorities.
"I had to take whatever money I could earn to support my family," he said. "It was all about making money for Ali... Ali treated me and the other boys badly. He would talk to us like dogs. He knew we would not complain about it."
Clancy said there were no mitigating factors in Ali's defence.
"He's expressed no remorse whatsoever," he said.
A pre sentence report writer said Ali had no insight into his offending and no empathy for the victims.
"His explanation continues to be self serving. He said he felt sorry for the victims and he wasn't exploiting them, he was trying to help them out," Clancy said.
Justice Heath said the offending was a "joint criminal enterprise designed to extort money from each of the complainants".
"(The victims) have nothing to be ashamed of. They were subjected to a criminal scam. I hope their reputations may gain something in Fiji, as a result of the sentencing that is taking place today," he said.
"People trafficking is an abhorrent crime. It is a crime against humanity. It undermines the respect all of us should have for the human race and the autonomy of individual people.
"Such conduct degrades human life. It is a crime that should be condemned in the strongest possible terms."
He jailed Ali for nine years and six months and ordered he pay $28,167 in reparation to the workers.
Ali's co-defendant Jafar Kurisi, who supervised the workers during their work in Tauranga, was convicted of lesser exploitation charges.
He was also due to be sentenced but was taken to hospital early Thursday morning.
He will instead be sentenced in February.
Outside court, Stand against Slavery chief Peter Mihaere said the sentence was a good result and would encourage exploitation victims to come forward and report their experiences.
In a statement, Immigration New Zealand assistant general manager Peter Devoy said the sentence was "hugely significant" and reflected 6000 hours worth of work that had gone into the prosecution.
"Some of the victims borrowed large sums of money to take up the opportunity to come here and now remain heavily indebted, while others used up their life savings to come to New Zealand. I hope today's sentences give them some degree of comfort," he said.