West Australian Couple Charged with Debt Bondage and Passport Offences in Human Trafficking Case

Australia, Police

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A West Australian couple is set to appear in Perth Magistrates Court today, facing charges related to debt bondage, falsifying visa documents, and passport offences following an Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigation into human trafficking. The AFP alleges that the couple provided false details on visa applications for a foreign citizen who arrived in Australia in late 2023 to work as a masseuse in their business located in regional WA.

According to the police report, the couple illegally held the woman’s passport, underpaid her, and forced her to repay alleged excessive debts. The couple hails from Ocean Reef and was arrested in May after the AFP probed the mistreatment of the worker.

The woman, who responded to a massage therapist job advertisement in the Philippines, came to Australia under the impression that the couple would arrange a work visa for her. However, they allegedly arranged a tourist visa instead by submitting false details on the documents. Upon her arrival in September 2023, the couple collected her passport and provided her with a list of expenses that would be deducted from her pay, including future student visa costs and workplace consumables.

The woman, who was denied official pay slips, was allegedly advised not to socialize in the local community and was told to live at the business. Moreover, the couple allegedly coerced her into depositing cash into her account, in various smaller amounts over multiple days, in order to meet the requirements for a student visa. After she received the bank statement with the required total, she allegedly had to withdraw the money in multiple smaller amounts and return it to the man.

The AFP claims that the couple also demanded additional fees from the woman, including those related to an English exam, a student visa, course tuition, and even the cost of a new machine for the massage business. When the woman complained about her pay and conditions, the man allegedly refused to return her passport.

AFP Human Trafficking Team acting Sergeant Kevin Loermans highlighted that such practices involved subjecting individuals to conditions they did not agree to or coercing them into working against their will. He emphasized the importance of recognizing indicators of slavery-like practices and reporting any suspicious activities. The safety, health, and welfare of victims and potential victims remain the AFP’s primary focus in human trafficking investigations.

The couple, a 32-year-old Chinese national and a 37-year-old woman, have each been charged with debt bondage, falsifying visa documents, and passport offences. Individuals who suspect exploitation or are at risk of being exploited can seek help by contacting the AFP or dialing Triple Zero (000) in case of emergencies. Additionally, the Australian Red Cross offers support and confidential advice to victims of human trafficking, slavery, and slavery-like practices.

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