International Desk: Vanuatu’s Magistrates Court has remanded a Bangladeshi couple over what is alleged to be the biggest human trafficking and slavery case in Vanuatu and the region.
Sekdah Somon and Buxoo Nabilah Bibi – the owners of the “Mr Price” home and furniture store in Vanuatu – were arrested and charged with 12 counts of human trafficking.
Somon and Bibi are also facing 12 counts each of slavery, contrary to section 102 (a) and 11 additional counts of money laundering against section 11 (3) (a) of the Penal Code.
The Vanuatu Daily Post was reliably informed that between September 21, 2018 and November 2018 Somon and Bibi allegedly brought in 12 people from Bangladesh illegally to find jobs in Vanuatu.
Reliable sources confirmed that complainants have filed complaints within the Vanuatu Police Force (VPF) and the proceedings commenced after the arrest of the accused in Port Vila.
They said 92 people had been allegedly illegally brought to Vanuatu by the couple and their cases are yet to be dealt with and brought before the court.
The Daily Post was also informed the couple were from Bangladesh but the husband had a Zimbabwe passport while his wife was using a Mauritius passport.
The couple were denied bail in the Magistrates Court on Wednesday amid concerns the couple may have other passports in their possession that made them a possible flight risk as they are originally from one country but evidence indicated they are using passports from different countries.
The Magistrates Court said that any bail should be obtained at the higher court after considering the seriousness of the offending is of public importance.
The couple were rejected bail because they might interfere with the witnesses.
The victims were placed in various locations in Port Vila.
Sources confirmed while the case was still under investigation there might also be some breaches in Vanuatu immigration laws, labour laws and Vanuatu Financial Service Commission (VFSC) laws.
They said it was likely that more people would be charged depending on the findings of the investigation.
The Daily Post was told the couple allegedly arranged and facilitated their entry in Vanuatu using deception, denial of their freedom of movement, coercion or threat of violence exploited and placed them in servitude.
They said after the 12 Bangladeshi workers came to Vanuatu, the couple allegedly subjected them to slavery by engaging them in work under oppressive terms and conditions, under menace of penalty and without freedom to leave at any time.
There were allegations these workers were promised good money for jobs in Vanuatu but they have to pay them some money in return for the offer.
The sources said that some of them allegedly paid $US2000 to the couple, some paid $US3900, $US4000, $US5000, $US6000 and $US8000.
They said the couple were alleged to have directly and indirectly made arrangements that involved property that they knew or ought to have known to be proceeds of crime when they procured those amounts from the victims.
The Minister of Internal Affairs, Andrew Napuat, has confirmed the arrest of the investor behind “Mr Price” in relation to alleged money laundering and human trafficking.
While the couple are known as owners of Mr Price, sources said the investigation was still underway to check whether or not the company had a link with the global Mr Price.
This is not the first time that Mr Price Asian Junction has been in the spotlight in Vanuatu as in June this year 21 work permits were revoked for workers brought in from overseas by the company.
risingbd/Dhaka/Nov 23, 2018/Nasim