Singapore: An Indian operator of an entertainment club in Singapore has been jailed for 41 months and fined Singapore dollars 27,365 (USD 20,000) for trafficking three women dancers from India and assaulting two of them.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Tuesday that Jaiho Club’ operator Alagar Balasubramanian, 47, imposed financial demands that the women would not be able to repay if they wished to quit.

All three women, rescued by the MOM, have since returned to India. Two of them were assaulted by Balasubramanian, it said in a statement.

They were not paid any salary throughout their employment in 2016, which ran on a six-month contract, The Straits Times reported, quoting the MOM statement.

Balasubramanian also seized their passports, work permits and mobile phones and threatened to hurt them if they returned to India without his approval.

The ministry said that its investigation officers visited the women regularly to check on their well-being and engaged professional counselling services for them. They also got temporary employment under the Temporary Job Scheme prior to returning to India.

Balasubramanian faced four charges under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act and claimed trial for three. He was acquitted of one charge. There is a gag order on the victims’ identities, the report said. The court heard that Balasubramanian was caught after a police report was made and police officers raided the club on May 30, 2016.

The three victims were not well educated and were unfamiliar with Singapore. Two had not been to Singapore before, while the other victim stayed in Singapore only for a week prior to being employed by the club.

Balasubramanian recruited the women from their villages in India, and knew that they would be susceptible to his coercion, said the prosecution.

The victims testified that they were not allowed to leave the premises on their own.

“(The club) is like a big jail. Once you are caught in his clutches, you can only leave when he releases you. You just have to go along with him, and only if he likes you, he’ll take good care of you… Otherwise, he will torture you and reduce you to nothing,” said one of the victims.

The women lived on the third floor, above the club. Balasubramanian also lived at the club during their employment. The dancers were given work phones to call regular patrons and entice them to visit the club. They were required to allow customers to dance with them and touch them in exchange for money.

Balasubramanian’s lawyer Kalidass Murugaiyan argued that his client had a rule against customers touching the dancers and that the victims had disobeyed him.

Deputy public prosecutors Han Ming Kuang and Selene Yap countered that Balasubramanian could easily have enforced the rules, given the defence’s case that there were bouncers present when troublemakers were present at the club.

Balasubramanian, a Singapore permanent resident, was also ordered by the court to pay Singapore dollars 2,722 in compensation.

He was convicted on February 21 for labour trafficking offences relating to his work as the operating manager of the Club at 46 Dunlop Street in the Little India precinct of motels, shops and eateries.

If he fails to pay his fine, he will be jailed for an additional 20 weeks. If he fails to pay the compensation, he will face two more weeks in prison.

Those found guilty of human trafficking here face a mandatory jail sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of up to Singapore dollars 100,000 (USD 73,000) for first-time offenders. They also face up to six strokes of the cane.

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