Two directors of a now-shuttered textiles factory convicted and jailed for human trafficking have lost a court case in which they claimed their human rights had been breached.

Leisure Clothing managing director Han Bin and marketing director Jia Liu, both Chinese nationals, failed to convince the court that they had not been given a fair trial.

The two were convicted of exploiting Vietnamese and Chinese employees of the Bulebel-based company, paying them a pittance while forcing them to work long days with few to no breaks and in poor conditions. They were each jailed for six years after an appeals court reversed a suspended jail term.

Leisure Clothing was a major textile manufacturer in Malta that had been operating since the 1980s and made garments for high-end labels such as Emporio Armani and Karen Millen. Owned by Chinese firm CICET, it eventually shut down in 2017.

The magistrates’ court initially found Han guilty and acquitted Jia in March 2022. But Han, who also has Maltese nationality, was given a suspended sentence, meaning he would not spend time behind bars.

The attorney general appealed the decision and the court of criminal appeal found in favour of the prosecutors, ruling that the two company directors were guilty and sentenced them each to six years in prison.

The two men were also to split the costs of the case and a €200,000 fine against Leisure Clothing was confirmed.

The company directors then filed a case before the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction, claiming a breach of their right not to be tried twice over the same crime. They argued that, while facing criminal proceedings, the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER) initiated action against them.

They also argued that the company was found guilty and fined when it was not even accused of any crime and that Jia was found guilty by association. They also complained about the time the case took to be decided, in breach of their right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time.

The court heard how the DIER proceedings, decided by the court in 2017, were over violations committed between May and June 2016. The crimes over which they were convicted dealt with violations that had taken place in 2014.

Police inspector Joseph Busuttil told the court that the prosecution had withdrawn the charges related to DIER violations in November 2014 once it had amended the charges to include one of human trafficking.

The court also noted that, during their legal submissions over the DIER charges, the directors’ lawyers never mentioned similar charges in other proceedings, as was being alleged now.

Mr Justice Ian Spiteri Bailey threw out their claims, ruling that both Han and Jia were convicted of committing crimes in their personal capacity but also as company directors.

He ruled that the duration of the hearings – from 2014 to 2023, including the appeal – was not exaggerated, given that the case involved communication with countries outside the EU, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The judge, therefore, rejected their claims and confirmed that neither had suffered a breach of their fundamental rights.

During the compilation of evidence against the two directors, a Vietnamese Leisure Clothing employee had told the court she had earned €2,681 in eight months working there but only received €150 every two months.

She explained that she got to know about Leisure Clothing through an agency in her home country. She said she had been promised a basic wage of €685 a month to work eight hours a day, six days a week. She had been told this wage did not include any overtime and other allowances related to her performance and depended on production.

The former factory worker also said she had paid the Vietnamese agent $1,000 and then another $2,500 to land the job in the first place.

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