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Chinese national allegedly ran a brothel, prostitutes

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Jan. 11, 2011) – In Tonga, a Chinese national, a woman residing in Nuku'alofa appeared at the Nuku'alofa Supreme Court this morning charged with seven counts, of trafficking persons into Tonga, keeping a brothel and trading in prostitution.

The woman Liu Lirong (45) appeared for her trial before judge alone, Justice Robert Shuster.

The counts include four for trafficking persons into Tonga, one for keeping a brothel and two counts for trading in prostitution.

Crown Prosecutor Sione Sisifa told the court the defendant is a Chinese national who came to Tonga in 2001 on a work permit where she operated a bar and a restaurant business.

The complainants and victims are two female Chinese nationals, Chun Juan Du (34) and Hong Yu Yang (29).

He said in March 2009 Liu traveled to China and met with the victims and convinced them to come to Tonga and work for her because she operated a bar and restaurant.

Chun first arrived in Tonga on June 20, 2009, and the second victim arrived later in that month. When they arrived in Tonga their passports were taken and they were forcefully kept at an apartment by Liu at Halaleva.

He added from June to July 2009, the victims were forced to work in prostitution where Liu arranged male clients to have sex with them either at the apartment they lived in or they were personally dropped off to clients, who in return paid for the sexual services.

The victims were also physically assaulted by Liu on various occasions when they refused to work. She also threatened to kill them and throw their bodies into the ocean if they contacted the police or the Chinese Embassy, he said.

The court was also told that the defendant told the victims that she had connections at the police and the embassy and if they contacted them she would then kill them and throw them into the ocean.

It was not until August 2009 the victims negotiated with the defendant for their release.

The prosecution intended to call seven witnesses to give evidence.

The first witness was Chun Juan Du, one of the victims told the court she first met Lirong in China around the last week of February or early March last year through a friend who told her she had businesses in Tonga and needed people to work for her.

"We met and talked about how many businesses she operated in Tonga and the money I would get if I was to come and she told me that my salary would be paid in U.S. dollars," the witness said.

Chun said that Liu offered to pay her 20,000 yen [US$241] to pay for the visa and air ticket expenses to Tonga.

Liu also told her that her work in Tonga would be as a waitress at the restaurant, sweeping the floor and that of the money received from customers she could get half of it.

Chun told the court she was poor in China so she looked at the benefits she would get in Tonga if she were to come here.

She said then went about preparing her police record and medical report. When her passport was given to her she said it had a visitor's visa and she approached Liu that her visa should be a work permit since she was to come and work in Tonga.

She said Liu then made a phone call to Tonga and she informed her that they could change her visa when they came to Tonga.

Chun arrived in Tonga on June 20, 2009 and was taken to a home at Halaleva kept by Liu.

She said on her second night a man suddenly came over to her room and attacked her. She ran to the Liu's room to ask who he was but she slapped her on the face and told her if she did not agree to it a man would stab her and throw her body into the sea.

The witness who was crying at this point told the court, she told Liu she did not come to Tonga to work as a prostitute. But because she was so scared so she had to do it.

Chun added that she saw clients give Liu money and sometimes she gave her some but most times she didn't.

She said to her understanding this was the payment for the sex. She said the money she did get from Liu was 40 pa'anga [US$21] and the most was 100 pa'anga [US$54] but that was a rare occasion.

When asked by the prosecutor how many men she slept with per day, she said three and identified them to be Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong and foreigners who spoke languages she did not understand. She did not recall any of the clients to be Tongan.

She said they were not allowed to go anywhere because Liu had warned them she had friends within the police department and the Chinese Embassy if they sought help they would tell her.

She had asked the defendant to give back her passport and Liu told her she must pay her US$5,000 but she only had 3,000 pa'anga [US$1,600]. She gave her the money and Liu then returned her passport.

She told the court she was often beaten up by Liu with a broom or slapped on the face and she was even stabbed on her palm by a Chinese man she believed to have been ordered by Liu.

She was taken to Vaiola hospital where the police first interviewed her.

In tears she told the court that she thought if she continued to remain silent from the police she would die.

She then pointed out to a previous case regarding her stabbing at the Supreme Court, where the Chinese interpreter in the case warned her not to say anything.

She said she was happy now because it was a different interpreter now in this case. The interpreter was a Tongan.

The court was told by the witness that her passport was now with the Tongan immigration and she knows she has no visa to remain in Tonga.

She told the court that she had thought about escaping but she did not know anyone in Tonga and Liu had told her if she did escape she had connections in the police and they would bring her back.

The trial adjourned for lunch at 12:00 pm and Justice Shuster ordered the court to resume at 1:45 pm but the defendant came late at 2:00pm.

Justice Shuster ordered that Liu, who was on bail, be remanded in police custody.

Her counsel Laki Niu pleaded that it was only a misunderstanding of the time but Justice Shuster said there was also an allegation from the prosecution that she had threatened the victims.

He then ordered she would remain in custody until the prosecution's case is done.

The trial will continue to run at the Supreme Court throughout this week.

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