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'Slave' serviced hundreds of clients, court told

Date

Louis Andrews

A Thai sex worker allegedly brought into the country and held as a slave had to service more than 700 clients before she paid off a $43,000 debt, a court has heard.

The Kambah woman accused of bringing her to Australia from Thailand to illegally work in the sex trade is now standing trial in the ACT Supreme Court.

But Watcharaporn Nantahkhum has pleaded not guilty to all six charges before the court.

Her barrister has urged the jurors to keep open minds about the case despite the fact it centred on Canberra's ''somewhat infamous sex industry''.

The accused woman has been charged with slavery, perverting the course of justice and offences under the federal Migration Act.

They include allowing an unlawful non-citizen to work in conditions of exploitation and allowing a non-citizen to work in breach of a visa condition. The allegations relate to two Thai women, who cannot be named, who travelled to Australia on tourist visas in 2007 knowingly to work as prostitutes.

It is alleged Nantahkhum employed the pair who worked and lived out of an apartment she rented in Braddon.

The 45-year-old has been charged with possessing one of the two women as a slave.

Commonwealth prosecutor Sara Cronan said the accused told the woman where to work, where to live, what to wear, what to eat, what hours to work and what medication to take.

''There was really, around this period, no aspect of [the woman's life] that wasn't controlled by the accused - totally controlled by the accused,'' Ms Cronan said.

The Crown has alleged the woman's earnings were taken to pay off a $43,000 debt.

The court heard she cleared the debt between her arrival in mid-2007 and October, by which point she had serviced ''well over 700'' men. But the prosecutor told the jury it would be up to them to distinguish between harsh and exploitative employment conditions and slavery. Nantahkhum's lawyer, James Sabharwal, reminded the jury the Crown carried the burden of proving the allegations beyond reasonable doubt.

''This trial, as the Crown prosecutor referred to, is somewhat unusual,'' Mr Sabharwal said. ''It centres on Canberra's somewhat infamous sex industry.''

''Can I just say that this is not the place to express any moral censures about the activities that inevitably are linked to the charges in this trial?''

Two former clients of Nantahkhum spoke yesterday of helping the woman find and rent apartments in the capital, and also meeting some of her alleged employees. One said one of the complainants expressed unhappiness about her working relationship with Nantahkhum months after she first arrived in Canberra. The court heard the woman told him her boss had decided to take $200 from her every day regardless of whether she worked.

''She thought it was too much, and she wanted to move out and work for herself,'' the witness said.

The second former client described receiving phone messages from Nantahkhum in mid-2008. By that time the alleged victims had overstayed their tourist visas, left the accused's employ and subsequently been picked up by police and immigration authorities. The witness said Nantahkhum explained she was in a lot of trouble and asked for $10,000 to send one of the women back to Thailand. But the court heard his initial statement to police made no mention of Nantahkhum saying she was in trouble, only that she needed the money to repatriate the woman. The trial continues.

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