The sentencing of four Bangladesh nationals implicated in what has been dubbed the biggest human trafficking case in Vanuatu as well as the region was handed down this week, after four years of battle in court.

The man behind Mr Price, Sekdah Somon, was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment and VT60, 000 (US$511) fine while his wife Buxoo Nabilah Bibi got 7 years’ imprisonment and a further VT20, 000(US$170) fine.The Court sentenced Anowar Hossain to 6 years and Palas Hosan for 7 years.

Somon, Bibi, Hossain, and Hosan had masterminded and aided with the arrangement to have more than Bangladeshis work in another country with the promise of well-remunerated employment businesses.

Chief Justice (CJ) Vincent Lunabek highlighted Vanuatu’s position on Trafficking and Slavery as he provided reasons for the sentencing.

“In Vanuatu, the seriousness of trafficking and slavery offending is indicated by the maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment for both offences, making them two of the most serious offences in the legislation after the offences of premeditated homicide and sexual intercourse without consent with a maximum sentence of imprisonment for life,” he said.

“This reflects Vanuatu’s obligations as part of international efforts to combat these two types of offending, the fulfillment of which is necessary to demonstrate that Vanuatu is doing its part to eliminate exploitative behavior, protect Vanuatu’s international reputation, and most importantly, to reduce the potentially devastating impact of such offending on the lives of victims.”

CJ Lunabek also made it clear that the court considered that each sentence is sufficient to hold each of them accountable for the harm done to the victims and society by their respective offending, and the court also considered that each sentence sends a signal of deterrence.
Last November, they were convicted by the Supreme Court on respective charges of Traffic in person, contrary to section 102(b) of the Penal Code, Slavery contrary to section 102(a) of the Penal Code, and Money Laundering, contrary to section 11(3)(a) of the Proceeds of Crimes Act.

Bangladeshi human trafficking victims in Vanuatu. Photo: via RNZ Pacific

They were also convicted on Intentional Assault, contrary to section 107(b) of the Penal Code, Threats to kill, contrary to section 115 of the Penal Code, Employing non-citizens without work permits, contrary to section 6(1) of the Labour (Work Permit) Act, and Furnishing false information to a Labour officer, contrary to section 17(1) of the Labour (Work Permit) Act.

“Mr Price” was the name of the business that they intended to establish just before the issue caught the attention of the authorities.

The trial took place at Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu on 18 November 2019 and ended on 14 September 2020.

The court heard that for many of the victims, Vanuatu was not their destination. They were promised different recruitment in Australia, Cuba, and New Caledonia, and were further promised attractive employment opportunities.

The work that many were given was not those that they were promised in Bangladesh by the accuseds’ agents. Many were ill suited to this kind of work. They were employed under conditions that were oppressive. They worked long hours with little breaks, often under threat of punishment.

The Court will not suspend the respective imprisonment sentences as they importantly reflects the seriousness of the respecting offending, denounce the respective conduct and is a deterrent to others committing the same offences.

Also, the sentences importantly reflect the interest of the victims and provide compensation for the loss of property done by the respective offending. A total sum of VT190, 836, 450 (US$1.6 million)was the amount paid by the victims to Somon.

All sentences will be served concurrently. The VT80, 000(US$682) fine must be paid by Somon and Bibi to the Government Treasury first before the payment of the compensation to the victims.

The defendants have been ordered to pay VT190, 836, 450 (US$1.6 million) as compensation to the 101 victims.

They have 14 days to appeal their respective sentences.