A brothel madam convicted of keeping a Thai sex worker a slave in a Braddon flat will spend almost the next five years behind bars.
Justice Richard Refshauge sentenced Watcharaporn Nantahkhum to eight years and 10 months prison, with a non parole period of four years and nine months this morning in the Supreme Court.
The 45-year-old will be eligible for release in January 2017 at the earliest.
Earlier this year Nantahkhum became the first person to be found guilty in the territory of a slavery offence.
The jury also found her guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice, in relation to a 500,000 baht bribe offered to the victim, and crimes under the Migration Act.
The charges related to two Thai women, who cannot be named, brought over in mid-2007 to work in Australian brothels.
One of the victims – the subject of the slavery charge – was told to pay off a $43,000 debt before she could claim her share of her takings.
By the time she paid off the sum – within four and a half months of her arrival – she had serviced more than 700 clients.
She was also sexually abused by Nantahkhum's associate, Robert Phillip Dick.
A Supreme Court jury earlier this year found Dick guilty of sexual offences committed against the woman in separate court proceedings.
The terminally ill Melbourne man is awaiting sentencing.
Nantahkhum is expected to be deported as soon as she walks through prison gates.
The woman had no prior convictions, but the judge noted someone with a relevant criminal record was unlikely to be granted a brothel licence.
Justice Refshauge said he was satisfied Nantahkhum was unlikely to reoffend, but also noted she refused to accept she employed the victim in conditions of slavery.
During her trial Nantahkhum, through her lawyers, said her accuser was a ‘mercenary’ who fabricated the allegations.
After the jury found her guilty and the judge revoked her bail Nantahkhum continued to protest her innocence to the authors of a pre-sentence report.
In sentencing, the judge noted the woman showed no contrition for the crimes.
Like her victim, Nantahkhum came to Australia willingly to work in the sex industry and help her family shoulder a financial burden.
The court heard she worked under “severe” conditions in Australian brothels before moving to Canberra.
“She should have known that this was not a way to conduct such a business,” Justice Refshauge said.
During the trial earlier this year the jury heard Nantahkhum became tired of working for herself and decided to employ someone to work for her.
With the help of Canberra-based clients she rented properties in Braddon and obtained a sole operator brothel licence.
The judge this morning said the prisoner’s crime was premeditated, and the level of control she exerted over her victim was high.
He also said the Migration Act offences created a power imbalance between Nantahkhum and the women.
In the pre-sentence report the woman was described by her Australian partner as a “devout Buddhist” and “the nicest person I ever met in my entire life”.
The judge, however, said there was “clearly an element of greed” driving Nantahkhum, although it was unclear precisely how much money she made.
Compared to similar cases in other states the judge said Nantahkhum’s business arrangement was “not a significant or large scale operation”.
The Victorian case of Wei Tang, for example, involved a sophisticated operation and manipulation of the visa system.
The Tang case, which was Australia’s first jury conviction for slavery, went all the way to the High Court and eventually lead to a nine-year sentence after being reduced on appeal.
Nantahkhum’s case was also likened in court to the Victorian prosecution of a woman known as 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 two on appeal.
In Nantahkhum’s case, as in that of DS, violence was not perpetrated against the victims, and the women were not coerced to come to Australia.
But the woman and her sister Aneknun Nantahkhum, had a hand in orchestrating the victims’ arrival on Australian shores, with Watcharaporn Nantahkhum directly profiting from the arrangement.
And the prosecution differed from the case of DS in that Nantahkhum offered no assistance to authorities and maintained her pleas of not guilty.
“I accept that because of her language and cultural difficulties Ms Nantahkhum will find prison harder for her than for others,” Justice Refshauge said.
He said that difficulty would be reflected in the non-parole period.
The woman’s sentence was backdated to April to take into account time already served.