Chinese employer in court after forcing women into prostitution

Court hears how a Chinese man living in Malta threatened his employees with dismissal if they did not comply

Restaurateur De Quan Feng, born in China and residing at St Paul's Bay, pleaded not guilty to charges of human trafficking and living off the earnings of prostitution.

Prosecuting inspectors Sylvana Briffa and Joseph Busuttil explained to the court how after weeks of observation, officers moved in on three massage parlours in St Venera, Paola and Rabat. Inside, the police found three Chinese women who were allegedly forced to work in prostitution.

The 52-year old Chinese man, who in the past used to do translation services from Chinese to English during court cases, owns a Chinese restaurant in Mellieha. He has been living in Malta for a long time and is also in possession of a Maltese passport.

De Quan Feng was charged with human trafficking, living off the earnings of prostitution, running a brothel and operating trading premises without license. The three parlours are Golden Fingers in St Venera, Chinese Massage in Paola and Massage Parlour in Rabat.

Taking the witness stand, one of the victims told the court she arrived in Malta in April last year to work as a masseuse in a parlour owned by the accused. An agent in China took care of all communication with the person who was to be her employer.

Using software called 'QQ', the woman communicated with a Chinese person in Malta to ask about her work permit. The man in Malta instructed her to pay her agent 70,000Yen, equivalent to €8,333, to apply for her travelling visa and work permit.

Pointing at De Quan Feng sitting in the dock and identifying him as her employer, she said "He promised I would be doing normal massage and earn over 10,000 yen, equivalent to €1190 monthly. My working hours were from 9am to 8pm from Monday to Sunday. I was told I could take a break but if I do, I earn less money".

She travelled to Malta with another woman. 'The boss' picked them from the airport and handed her the work permit and took her to an apartment in St Venera. The following morning she started working doing massages in a parlour.

"We charged €20 for half an hour and €30 for an hour. The boss collected the money and paid me €6 for every half hour massage and €10 for an hour's massage. I never earned the salary I was promised in China. When I started the money was not good, but then it got better", she said.

The witness explained that in the beginning, she did not know what her customers expected. "I did not know how to satisfy my clients", the witness said. Asked by the prosecution about her qualifications, the witness explained she was a qualified beautician.

Repeatedly asked by the prosecution to give details about her work, the witness became emotional and upset. Magistrate Doreen Clarke suspended the testimony saying it was clear to the court that the witness was uncomfortable giving evidence in open court.

The court ordered that the testimony of the witness and that of the other two victims would be heard through video conference.

Subsequently, the court continued hearing how through subtle threats, De Quan Feng pushed the three women into prostitution. “He would tell us that we should perform inappropriate actions on our clients to earn more money.

He insisted that unless our income increases he has no need of us being here and would send us back to China. We incurred huge debts to be able to pay for the move to Malta and needed to be employed. We were left with no option but to give extra services, or face the wrath of our creditors if we went back to China empty handed”, the witness said.

Her evidence was corroborated by the other two women, also victims of the same abuse. One of the women also recounted how she could not afford to rent an apartment and was forced to live in a makeshift area above the parlour.

“We had what looked like a loft and I had a bed there. I could barely stand up straight it was so close to the ceiling”, she said.

The case continues on 21 July, when a number of men claiming to have been clients at the three parlours are expected to take the witness stand.

Lawyer Jason Grima appeared parte civile for the three victims, while Joe Sammut represented the accused.

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