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Businessman ordered to pay fine for human trafficking

Published:Saturday | July 4, 2015 | 7:00 AMBarbara Gayle

BUSINESSMAN RAJESH Gurunani yesterday escaped a prison term and was instead ordered to pay more than $4.5 million in fines and compensation arising from his convictions last month for human trafficking.

Justice Courtney Daye made it clear that the offences for which Gurunani was convicted did not warrant a prison term. The judge said he did not find that Gurunani was heartless because, from the evidence of the victims, he showed some degree of humanity.

Gurunani is the first person to be convicted since the 2013 amendment to the Trafficking in Persons Act, which paved the way for victims to be compensated.

Serious about crime

Senior deputy director of public prosecutions Lisa Palmer-Hamilton said the case sent a message that the Jamaican authorities are serious about prosecuting the crime.

Gurunani, 41, was convicted of three counts of trafficking in person, for which he was fined $500,000 each or three years' imprisonment. He was fined $150, 000 or one year's imprisonment each for three counts of withholding travel documents, and $150,000 or one year's imprisonment each for three counts of facilitating trafficking in persons. The sentences are to run concurrently and if the fines totalling $2.4 million are not paid, Gurunani will serve three years.

Victims abused

The prosecution led evidence that the three victims who were recruited from India to work with Gurunani were not paid their correct wages. The prosecution also applied for compensation for the victims totalling US$21,093, which amounts to $2.4 million. The prosecution led evidence that two of the victims suffered physical and emotional abuse from Gurunani. Justice Daye awarded two of the victims US$1,000 each for emotional distress and pain.

Gurunani's bail was extended until Monday to pay the fines. The compensation was paid in court yesterday.

Attorneys-at-law Tom Tavares-Finson and Nadine Atkinson-Flowers, who represented Gurunani, said their client was relieved that he was not sent to prison.They had asked the judge to look at the case in a way in which financial penalty would suffice.

On June 19, a seven-member jury convicted Gurunani after a five-week trial in the Home Circuit Court.

Palmer-Hamilton and Crown Counsel Denise Samuels-Dingwall led evidence that Gurunani trafficked nationals from India between August 2009 and March 2011 and held them under "an environment of enforced control".

The maximum sentence for human trafficking is 20 years' imprisonment, but the law also makes provision for persons to be fined.

The businessman, who came to Jamaica from India in 1995 and worked in other businesses until in 2003 when he opened a chain of shoes and clothes stores, has denied the allegations.

Attorney-at-law Alethia Whyte of the Assets Recovery Agency told the court that an application will be made for forfeiture of Gurunani's assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act.