While Leisure Clothing employees were paid €70 a month for six 14-hour days per week, managing director Han Bin received a performance bonus of €30,000 a year, a court heard this morning.
During his interrogations, which were video recorded, Mr Han also admitted to keeping copies of a contract saying workers were receiving €680 a month "just in case the Employment and Training Corporation comes to check on us".
The revelations came as Magistrate Carol Peralta continued hearing the compilation of evidence against Mr Han, 46, from San Ġwann and Jia Liu, 31, from Birżebbuġa, who are charged with human trafficking and the exploitation of Chinese and Vietnamese workers at Leisure Clothing. They are pleading not guilty.
Vice Squad Police Sergeant Bernardette Valletta told the court that when the police got a confirmation from Air Malta that Mr Han had booked a flight to Rome for the following day, the police requested and got an arrest and search warrant. Time was also of essence because the case was receiving prominence in the media, raising suspicions that the directors could abscond.
When they got to his house in San Gwann, Mr Han was not there and was arrested upon his arrival in his Audi A6. His girlfriend of four years, who Mr Han had at first told the police was the cleaner and did not speak English, was also arrested.
She said that while his house was being searched, Mr Han told her and other officers: "Does the Maltese government know you are here searching my house?" To this she replied that she worked for the government.
Among the items the police found in his house was a signed promise of sale agreement to the tune of €537,000 for a property in St Ursula Street, Valletta, between Mr Han and Labour MP Marlene Farrugia, as well as two contracts and the plans for the property.
This was among other documents, that included a Maltese citizenship certificate and the application for it as well as an agreement between Leisure Clothing and Vietnamese recruitment agency Vihatico. The police also found a list of working conditions of Vietnamese workers on a Leisure Clothing letterhead.
Ms Valletta said some of these documents were found in a Giorgio Armani leather briefcase Mr Han was carrying at the time of his arrest.
She said that as part of their investigations, the police watched movements outside the building being used by Leisure Clothing workers in Hal Far, known as China House. At 6.15am they saw workers queuing with a bowl in their hand. Half an hour later, they would board a coach that drove them to the plant in Bulebel.
Police Inspector Joseph Busuttil also took the witness stand today, repeating, more or less, what has already been said in previous court hearings.
He said some of the Vietnamese victims, who were all machine operators, had claimed that the day before they escaped and turned to the police for protection, Mr Han had called them in for a meeting and asked them whether they were intent on retaining their employment at Leisure Clothing.
They further claimed that they were told that if they wanted to stay, they had to sign a document saying they were happy with their salaries, working conditions, the level of the accommodation and food they were receiving. They signed the document "because they were scared of him" and escaped.
During recorded interrogations, Mr Han told the police he had been the company's managing director for 14 years, received a salary from Leisure Clothing, another salary from the mother company, the China Chongquing and a performance bonus of around €30,000 a year, depending on the company's performance. The company's major clients included Hugo Boss and Armani.
He said employees worked 14-hour days up to a maximum of 60 hours a week. They were given time off in lieu when they worked overtime and had three breaks totalling an hour and 45 minutes every day.
Regarding the wages that were being retained by the company, Mr Han told police the wages were deposited in the company's general bank account. When asked what he would do if all employees requested their wages at a go, given that there were insufficient funds, Mr Han said he would have either asked the mother company to inject funds or else ask Bank of Valletta to extend the overdraft or for a loan.
Mr Han said Leisure Clothing began employing Vietnamese workers in 2013 when it was looking to reduce its labour costs. However, he complained that these were "not productive enough".
At the end of today's sitting, Magistrate Peralta gave the parties to the case - prosecution, defence and parte civile lawyers - until February 10 to file written submissions on whether the prosecution had presented enough prima facie evidence to sustain the charges, particularly the first and second charge related to the trafficking of human beings and misappropriation of funds.
The court also requested the parties to submit their opinions on whether the court could find enough evidence to proceed on some of the charges and not others.
The case continues on February 9.
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