Men who were trafficked to work in slave-like conditions on fishing boats will be deprived of court-ordered compensation unless their lawyers can locate assets in Cambodia belonging to the Taiwanese citizens who were found guilty of trafficking them, court and Ministry of Justice officials said Tuesday.
Lin Li Chen, 54, and five other Taiwanese nationals who remain at large, were convicted in April of trafficking 179 men to work on fishing boats through the recruitment agency Giant Ocean International Fishing Co.
Giant Ocean told an estimated 1,000 men that they were being sent to work on fishing boats around East Asia and that their salaries would be paid to their families. However, the men found themselves trapped on boats as far away as Senegal and most were never paid at all.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Kor Vandy sentenced the six to 10 years in prison and ordered them to pay between $1,800 and $15,000 to each of their victims—but that compensation may never materialize.
“It is the job of the plaintiff to investigate to find if the suspect has any assets—car, land, house—that can be seized,” Chea Sok Heang, a Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge, said at a Phnom Penh workshop on human trafficking in the fishing sector Tuesday.
“If the assets are identified, the plaintiff can apply to the court to have the assets frozen until the court case is completed and then the assets can be used to pay the compensation.”
Giant Ocean paid a $100,000 guarantee to the Ministry of Labor when it registered as a business in December 2009. This money, which was deposited at the National Bank, would cover a fraction of total compensation awarded to Giant Ocean victims—anywhere between $358,000 and $1.79 million.
However, Ith Rady, secretary of state at the Justice Ministry, said at the workshop that the surety was part of a private deal made between the Ministry of Labor and Giant Ocean at the time of registration, and that lawyers should act swiftly to make sure it goes toward compensation.
“It’s the plaintiff’s responsibility to apply to the court to freeze the property,” Mr. Rady said. “The plaintiff should make it a priority to send a letter to the court requesting that the court maintain the $100,000.”
“We don’t know the agreement between the Ministry of Labor and the company. What is the money for? What did they agree? I don’t know.”
Chuop Narath, deputy director of the Labor Ministry’s labor department, declined to reveal specifics of the deal between the ministry and Giant Ocean.
“The deposit is to ensure that the agency complies with its contract,” he said. “However, according to procedure, the private property [of the perpetrator] will be used first.”
Mom Sokchar, program director for Legal Support for Children and Women, which has assisted the victims in the court case, said his team had already searched and found nothing of value belonging to any of the accused from Giant Ocean.
“They have no assets in Cambodia. All we can do is ask that they freeze the $100,000,” Mr. Sokchar said.