Indian American couple to pay $1 mn to maids in slavery case

July 12th, 2008 - 7:45 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, July 12 (IANS) A multi-millionaire Indian American couple, already sentenced to jail for virtually enslaving two Indonesian maids, has been ordered by a US court to pay nearly $1 million in back wages to the women. The federal judge ruled Friday that the workers were entitled to double the amount of unpaid wages they were owed by their employers, Mahender and Varsha Sabhnani.

The victims, identified only as Samirah and Enung, deserved the money because they “were beaten, tortured and subjected against their will” while they worked 24 hours a day and seven days a week for the Sabhnani household in Muttotown in Long Island, US District Judge Arthur Spatt in Central Islip said in the ruling.

The Sabhnanis, who run an international perfumes business, have been ordered to pay Samirah, who worked for them from Feb 2002 to May 2007, $620,744, while Enung, who worked at their house from Jan 2005 to May 2007 is owed $315,802.

Judge Spatt also said the federal government could seize not only the Sabhnanis’ house, but also an attached office of the couple’s multimillion-dollar perfume company. The estimate value of the home and office is $2 million.

After the ruling, Varsha Sabhnani’s lawyer, Jeffrey Hoffman, told Newsday, the leading Long Island daily, “We continue to believe the Court of Appeals will reverse the convictions and the financial judgments”.

While the prosecutors had claimed that the actual wages amounted to $1.1 million, the Sabhnanis’ defence lawyers said that figure was vastly exaggerated and pared it down to $214,000.

The women, who were brought as household helps from Indonesia, had testified in court that they were beaten with brooms and umbrellas, slashed with knives and forced to take cold water showers for perceived “mistakes”.

The Sabhnanis were convicted in December last year on 12 counts including modern-day slavery, forced labour, involuntary servitude and harbouring illegal aliens.

Varsha, 46, was sentenced to 11 years in prison and fined $25,000, a punishment some Indian Americans found too harsh, while her 51-year-old husband was sentenced to three years and four months in prison and fined $12,500.

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