New Zealand suspected 'slave boss' arrested

Immigration NZ’s Peter Devoy and Detective Inspector Mike Foster speak about the investigation into human trafficking and slavery in the Hawke’s Bay horticulture industry. Combined slavery and human trafficking charges have been laid for the first time ever as Immigration NZ cracks down on what they allege is a major scam involving Samoan migrants.

Immigration NZ's chief investigator, former policeman Peter Devoy, called the Hawke's Bay case "a new low". A 64-year-old Samoan, who holds New Zealand residency, has been charged with both human trafficking and slavery. The first offence carries a maximum tariff of 20 years and the latter  one of 14 years. He is named as Viliamu Samu, also known as Joseph Matamata. The charges are the result of a two-year joint investigation by a 15-strong combined police and Immigration team.

The man was due to appear in the Hastings District Court on Monday and is expected to seek name suppression. He was arrested at his Hawkes Bay home early this morning. Devoy said the man had allegedly imported migrant workers from Samoa since 1994 to work in stone fruit picking gangs.

Devoy said the man was of "some standing" back in Samoa, but would not say if he held a matai title. His alleged victims were described by Foster as "vulnerable", who said they were often of limited education and poor language skills.

They had ten alleged victims willing to testify about how they were treated. Immigration say the workers claim the man confiscated passports, underpaid them, subjected them to assaults and threats. They also say their movements were heavily controlled.

"When we talk generally about exploitation, that usually means elements of control ... those controls put in place might mean keeping people isolated, removing passports, it might be physical violence or threats of physical violence, that they will get them deported - there are always elements of control to subjugate a person and to exploit them," said Devoy.

Sources have told Stuff during the recent Big Scam investigation series into immigration fraud that the horticulture sector is rife with such scams, particularly among sub-contractors who undercut law-abiding rivals by paying workers in cash, and below minimum wage.

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