A Bangladeshi man on trial for trafficking three fellow countrymen into the Maldives admitted guilt at the criminal court on Monday.
Mohyuddin and Masoodh Rana are accused of taking money from three Bangladeshi men to bring them to the Maldives on false pretences. The two defendants were arrested last year after a meeting with the victims at the Sultan Park in Malé turned into a fistfight.
Both men previously pleaded not guilty to the human trafficking charges.
But at Monday’s hearing, Mohyuddin, who was speaking for himself because his lawyer did not show up, confessed to taking part in a trafficking operation but pinned the blame on his co-defendant Rana.
“Yes, I phoned the men and I also met with them. I also went to the airport to pick them up. But I was just following Rana’s instruction,” Mohyuddin told the court with the help of a translator.
The police officer who investigated the case, Mohamed Ismail, also testified as a prosecution witness.
“After arresting Mohyuddin, we found many passports, passport size photos and several forged documents in his apartment,” the policeman said.
“But we did not find any documents related to the three trafficking victims.”
Ismail said the victims were transferred to a shelter and sent back to Bangladesh as they requested.
“According to the victims, around MVR50,000 [US$3,200] was taken from each of them in the guise of providing them jobs here in Maldives,” he said.
Judge Ali Adam adjourned the hearing after saying that more witnesses would be summoned for testifying at the next trial date.
In June, the Maldives was removed from a human trafficking watch list of the US State Department following the first successful prosecution and conviction of traffickers. A downgrade to tier three on the watch list could have entailed non-humanitarian and non-trade sanctions.
Some 130,000 migrant workers are believed to reside in the Maldives, including 60,000 undocumented workers, the majority of whom are Bangladeshi and Indian men working in the construction and tourism sectors.
An unknown number are subjected to “practices indicative of forced labour, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, and debt bondage,” according to the State Department.
A Maldivian government report in 2011 revealed human trafficking to be the second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$123 million a year.
The first cases under the 2013 anti-human trafficking law were prosecuted last year. The first conviction was secured in November when three Bangladeshi men were each sentenced to 10 years in jail for sex trafficking.
Two Maldivian men are also presently on trial on trafficking charges.