Sex slave keeper's tragic history revealed
Watcharaporn Nantahkhum. Photo: Gary Schafer
A devout Buddhist who kept a Thai woman as a slave in a Canberra brothel herself came to Australia to work in the sex industry and help her family pay their debts.
The circumstances which drove Watcharaporn Nantahkhum into the sex industry were similar to those which motivated the victim she ended up exploiting, court documents show.
Earlier this year, the 45-year-old became the first person found guilty in the ACT for possessing a slave.
She will learn her fate on Thursday, when Justice Richard Refshauge hands down his sentence in the Supreme Court.
A pre-sentence report tendered in court yesterday reveals parallels between the woman's life in her home country of Thailand and that of her victim. With her father dead and her mother facing debt trouble in Thailand, Nantahkhum arranged to travel to Australia and work in a brothel and send money home.
Likewise, her victim was brought to Australia willingly to work in the sex industry after her father's demise.
The woman, whose name has been suppressed, wanted to make enough money to help her mother pay the mortgage on the family's rice field and put her son through school.
Instead she found herself isolated, controlled and raped by an associate of Nantahkhum's, Robert Phillip Dick.
Sentencing proceedings against Dick are afoot in the Supreme Court.
A jury last month took about two hours to find Nantahkhum guilty of intentionally possessing a slave and attempting to pervert the course of justice by offering her a 500,000 Thai baht (then about $16,000) bribe to keep quiet and return home.
During the trial, Commonwealth prosecutor Sara Cronan argued there was virtually no aspect of the victim's life Nantahkhum didn't control.
The victim serviced more than 700 clients before she paid off the $43,000 debt owed to the people who had facilitated her arrival in Australia.
But the woman's lawyers suggested their client's accuser was a mercenary with an axe to grind against Nantahkhum.
Nantahkhum was also found guilty of four Migration Act offences, ranging from allowing a non-citizen to work in breach of a visa condition and allowing an unlawful non-citizen to work in conditions of exploitation.
At a sentencing proceeding yesterday Ms Cronan said the defendant, who is in custody at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, was motivated purely by greed. ''She chose very deliberately, on the evidence in the trial, not to work herself but to exploit [the victim] in the way that she did,'' Ms Cronan said.
Nantahkhum worked as a prostitute in Australia before becoming a licenced sole operator in the ACT.
The prosecutor also said Nantahkhum made a lot of money from the victim, claiming almost all her earnings until the $43,000 was paid off and subsequently taking a portion.
Defence barrister James Sabharwal said prison would be hard for his client, who speaks little English and whose family in Thailand are unlikely to be able to visit. He also said Nantahkhum, who has no criminal history, had good prospects for rehabilitation but was likely to be deported after her eventual release.
The slavery offence carries a maximum penalty of 25 years.
The case has been likened to the Victorian prosecution of a woman, DS, for her role in a scheme bringing Thai women to work in licenced Sydney and Melbourne brothels.
DS was initially jailed for nine years with a non-parole of three, later reduced to six to serve 2½ on appeal.