EX­TOR­TION OR MIS­UN­DER­STAND­ING?

Windsor Star - - FRONT PAGE - DEREK SPALD­ING dspald­[email protected]­sorstar.com

Ne­hwin Wan­har, left, Aji Suroto, cen­tre, and Dudy Supriyadi leave On­tario Court of Jus­tice on Fri­day. The three Es­sex County men, in­clud­ing Aji Suroto (not shown), are ac­cused of ex­tort­ing money from tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers in Leam­ing­ton.

Three Es­sex County men have been charged with ex­tort­ing money from tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers from In­done­sia who say they were forced to pay un­ex­pected ac­com­mo­da­tion and trans­porta­tion fees once ar­riv­ing in Canada.

Sev­eral em­ploy­ees at Via Verde Hy­dro­pon­ics Ltd. in Leam­ing­ton say they bor­rowed money rang­ing from $6,500 to $9,000 to pay for the cost of ob­tain­ing tem­po­rary work visas and for travel costs to Canada.

Two other men, who also work at the green­houses, are ac­cused of col­lect­ing the money from the work­ers ev­ery pay­day. It’s al­leged they would drive the work­ers from work to the bank and col­lected the cash im­me­di­ately. The work­ers claim they reg­u­larly faced threats of be­ing fired, which would then re­sult in them be­ing sent home, if they did not pay up.

Es­sex County OPP led the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that be­gan in June when the is­sue was re­ported to them from Le­gal As­sis­tance of Wind­sor, the group that has ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with hu­man traf­fick­ing and labour ex­ploita­tion.

Lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the three men dur­ing their first ap­pear­ance in pro­vin­cial court re­ject all charges, say­ing the whole sit­u­a­tion is a mat­ter of con­fu­sion.

“I think at the end of the day ev­ery­one’s go­ing to find out this was re­ally a case that’s much ado about noth­ing,” said de­fence lawyer Frank Miller, who rep­re­sented Dudy Supriyadi, 39, and Aji Suroto, 33, the two men ac­cused of col­lect­ing the money from work­ers. “Through a se­ries of mis­un­der­stand­ings and er­rors peo­ple have come to the wrong con­clu­sion about what’s taken place among these peo­ple and ac­tu­ally noth­ing un­to­ward has hap­pened.”

Ne­hwin Wan­har, 29, is ac­cused of charg­ing the fees for ac­com­mo­da­tion and trans­porta­tion af­ter help­ing the work­ers gain ac­cess to em­ploy­ment in Canada and con­nect­ing them with the loans they’ve strug­gled to pay back. The Crown re­ported the work­ers paid ex­tra fees rang­ing from $1,400 to $11,550, de­pend­ing on the amount of time they worked.

But de­fence lawyers con­tend the work­ers knew ex­actly how much money they bor­rowed to gain ac­cess to the coun­try and they knew ex­actly what they had to pay for once they got here, ac­cord­ing to Wan­har’s lawyer An­thony Bar­ile, who spoke to news me­dia out­side the court­house.

“A lawyer pre­pared the con­tracts in In­done­sia, it was in their na­tive lan­guage ... and they will­ingly and freely signed those con­tracts, it’s as sim­ple as that,” he said. “They’re con­trac­tu­ally bound to pay it. It cov­ers air­fare, it cov­ers the ap­pli­ca­tion for their work per­mit and ac­com­mo­da­tion costs and they were fully aware of it.”

Staff from Le­gal As­sis­tance of Wind­sor said they could not com­ment about the case now that it’s be­fore the courts.

Miller is adamant the three men did not threaten the work­ers in any­way.

“Our peo­ple could not make those threats, did not make those threats, would not make those threats,” he said. “If peo­ple were go­ing to lose their jobs through their own con­duct, then they would prob­a­bly have their visas re­voked sim­ply be­cause the visa’s de­pen­dent of the ex­is­tence of em­ploy­ment. But our clients were by no means threat­en­ing to send these peo­ple home.”

Jus­tice of the Peace Su­san Whe­lan re­leased the men from pro­vin­cial court on Fri­day with a list of con­di­tions. Wan­har, who lives in Kingsville, is not to con­tact the work­ers who made the claims against him, nor is he to con­tact Supriyadi and Aji.

All three men can still re­turn to work at Via Verde, but they are not to dis­cuss the charges, nor are they to talk to the work­ers mak­ing ac­cu­sa­tions against them. Supriyadi and Aji, who re­ceived their or­ders through an In­done­sian in­ter­preter, avoided no-con­tact or­ders with each other be­cause they live to­gether in Leam­ing­ton.

The Star tried to con­tact the Via Verde green­house, but the per­son who an­swered the main phone line said they did not speak English and did not un­der­stand the ques­tions. Miller was adamant the owner has noth­ing to do with re­cruit­ing work­ers or their con­tracts.

“The green­house op­er­a­tor’s not part of it. All he cares about is hav­ing a per­son show up at his door and work,” Miller said. “How that per­son got here or who (that per­son) paid to get here is not part of the busi­ness of the green­house op­er­a­tor.”

DAX MELMER/The Wind­sor Star

DAX MELMER/The Wind­sor Star

De­fence lawyers Frank Miller, left, and An­thony Bar­ile speak to the me­dia Fri­day out­side the On­tario Court of Jus­tice. They’re de­fend­ingthree In­done­sian men charged with ex­tort­ing money from Leam­ing­ton green­house work­ers. For a video, go to wind­sorstar.com.

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