By John Weekes
November 10, 2015
A young man says he was lured to New Zealand on the hollow promise of a two-year visa and permanent residency for himself and his family.
Raghbir Singh Kaler, who gave evidence in New Zealand’s first human-trafficking trial today, said he was told to pay a fortune or lose his passport before flying out.
Two Indian brothers and a third man with name suppression are on trial. They have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The charges including arranging the entry of people by deception and giving incorrect information to a refugee status officer.
Mr Kaler told the High Court at Nelson today he was excited when offered work and the chance of a new life in New Zealand for himself and his family.
The man from Punjab said he learned from a relative of available work permits more than six years ago.
He said he spoke to Jaswinder Singh Sangha, one of three men now on trial.
Mr Kaler said Jaswinder told him he could arrange a two-year visa, and permanent residency.
The witness was then allegedly told: “When you become permanent, then your family can come also.”
Crown prosecutor Mark O’Donoghue asked: “Were you interested in an opportunity to come and work in New Zealand?”
The witness replied: “Yes.”
Mr Kaler said he was told about “immigration fees” and an airline ticket.
He told Jaswinder he was interested, and was then asked to give a copy of his passport.
Mr Kaler said on Jaswinder’s advice, he then travelled 90km, to Jalandhar, Punjab, with a distant relative accompanying him.
He said he then met Satnam Singh, Jaswinder’s brother.
Mr Kaler said Satnam, also on trial in Nelson now, was in an office when yet another person completed the papers.
The witness said Mana Corp, a Marlborough-based labour hire firm, was named as the employer on paperwork.
He understood $12 per hour was the salary he’d get in New Zealand, and he’d work 40 hours a week.
The court heard an out-sourced agent called TT Services processed visa applications for Immigration New Zealand (INZ) in India.
Mr Kaler said he paid 7000 Rupees (roughly $160) in the form of a bank draft to TT Services.
Mr Kaler, who was studying English at the time, said as he waited to hear about his visa application, his passport stayed with TT Services.
He said Jaswinder Singh Sangha phoned him in about May 2009, saying his “visa was there, or might be there”, and he should get ready for New Zealand.
He said Jaswinder then told him to get about 1,055,000 rupees – then equivalent to about $32,000.
“He was shocked … he was concerned,” an interpreter said on Mr Kaler’s behalf.
Mr Kaler said he questioned Jaswinder about the money, and didn’t have access to such funds.
“If you want to go, then you’ll have to pay,” Jaswinder allegedly told him.
So, Mr Kaler said, he discussed raising money from his family.
He claimed Jaswinder agreed to this, but told him if he didn’t raise the funds, he’d not get his passport back.
Mr Kaler said he decided to pay.
“I already made [up] my mind that I have to go.”
NZ’s first human trafficking trial: alleged victim gives evidence
Mr Kaler said he borrowed the money, at 2 per cent interest a month, from his family.
He said he gave Jaswinder cash, for which he never got a receipt, though he admitted never asking for one.
“I was excited to come, [I] didn’t realise.”
The prosecutor asked: “Was anything discussed about travel arrangements to New Zealand?”
The witness replied: “No.”
He said Jaswinder called him back, and in June 2009 he met him at Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, an eight-hour journey from Mr Kaler’s home.
Mr Kaler said Jaswinder handed out passports at the airport.
He said it was there he learned his visa was valid for only seven months.
“No worries, it will be extended when you reach there,” he claimed Jaswinder told him.
The witness said he arrived in New Zealand on June 22 with about 11 other migrants.
He said they then took a bus from Christchurch to Blenheim, as Satnam Singh followed in a car.
The witness said one Jaswinder Paul, also known as “Mr Nikka”, and a “Mr Rajesh”, the brother of a man named Roger, met the arrivals in Blenheim.
Mr O’Donoghue said another group of Indian men arrived about six days later. Mr Kaler said he was then moved to a house in Hospital Rd, Blenheim.
Mr Kaler said he only got about one-and-a-half days of work, which was “not enough” and less than expected.
But he said Jaswinder Paul and “Mr Rajesh” kept telling him not to worry, as work would come.
Mr Kaler said he later learned from Jaswinder Singh Sangha that Mana Corp “had to be transferred” because the company had failed.
Mr Kaler said he was told another man would take over Mana Corp, and then the third defendant arrived on the scene.
He said this man told him there was no work, and he’d have to go back to India – or apply for “refugee” status.
Mr Kelar said he was confused, and had no idea what refugee status was.
“It was happening too quick. I couldn’t understand anything.”
Mr O’Donoghue earlier discussed issues former INZ employee Wiebe Herder raised with Mana Corp’s lawyer about the company.
The prosecutor said Mr Herder had concerns about former Mana Corp director Mallikarjuna “Malli” Chunduri.
The former INZ staffer mentioned Mr Chunduri’s “sudden sale [or] disposal of the company and his sudden departure from New Zealand”.
Immigration authorities made a “special arrangement” with Mana Corp, the court was told earlier.
Steven Zindel, lawyer for the third defendant, referred to “paperwork difficulties” that spawned the compromise allowing 23 Indian workers into the country.
Mr Zindel asked if “there was some pressure to approve the compromise because of the pruning season” looming in the wine industry.
Mr Herder said there was.
The trial before Justice Robert Dobson and a jury of twelve is expected to last about five weeks.
- Jaswinder Singh Sangha: 7 charges of arranging entry into NZ by deception
- Jaswinder Singh Sangha and Satnam Singh: Jointly face 11 charges of arranging entry into NZ by deception
- Jaswinder Singh Sangha and the third man: Jointly face 36 charges relating to providing false information to a refugee status officer.