Alleged ‘sex slaves’ keeper faces retrial

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A woman has been released from prison as she awaits a retrial after a court quashed a jury’s finding she was guilty of forcing two women from Thailand into sex slavery.

Rungnapha Kanbut was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2019 after being found guilty of intentionally possessing a slave, exercising powers of ownership over a slave and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

She faced the Court of Criminal Appeal in August where she appealed for her conviction to be quashed or, failing that, her sentence reduced.

The panel of Supreme Court Judges in December allowed the appeal, overturning the conviction and ordering Ms Kanbut to face a new trial.

Rungnapha Kanbut was found guilty of forcing two women from Thailand into sex slavery by confiscating their passports and ladening them with debt, but the convictions were overturned. Picture: AAP / Jeremy PiperRungnapha Kanbut was found guilty of forcing two women from Thailand into sex slavery by confiscating their passports and ladening them with debt, but the convictions were overturned. Picture: AAP / Jeremy Piper

In their judgment, the judges said the alleged victims were Thai women who entered Australia on tourist visas between November 2004 and March 2005.

“There was no dispute that they both lived with the applicant and worked in brothels for a few months after their entry into Australia,” the judgment reads.

The now roughly 60-year-old is accused of subjecting the women to severe mistreatment and prison-like conditions.

When the women arrived in Sydney, Ms Kanbut allegedly confiscated their passports and told them they would each need to pay off a $45,000 debt, the judgment said.

The women were allegedly frequently forced to work up to 12 hours a day at multiple brothels, with almost all of their earnings going towards the “debts”.

Ms Kanbut had her convictions successfully overturned in the Court of Criminal Appeal in December. Picture: AAP / Jeremy PiperMs Kanbut had her convictions successfully overturned in the Court of Criminal Appeal in December. Picture: AAP / Jeremy Piper

According to the judgment, the jury was told naked photos were also taken of the women and used to exert extra control by threatening to release them on the internet.

The judgment revealed testimonies to Ms Kanbut’s good character were missing from the trial and may have impacted the jury’s opinion of her if included.

According to the judgment, submissions by a number of people who knew Ms Kanbut in the time following her crimes were said by her lawyer to express “shock” at the alleged crimes.

One of the witnesses was quoted as describing her as a “kind and generous woman” with her lawyers arguing had the jury known this, it would have painted a “very different picture”.

The matter returned to the District Court on Tuesday where Ms Kanbut applied for bail following her successful appeal.

Commonwealth DPP prosecutor Bethany Debenham told the court the application for bail was not opposed as Ms Kanbut was on bail during her previous trial.

“The charges are quite serious … she was convicted in 2019 and has served some time in custody, but the convictions were overturned in December,” Ms Debenham told the court.

She will face a new trial over the charges. Picture: AAP / Jeremy PiperShe will face a new trial over the charges. Picture: AAP / Jeremy Piper

The court was told a criminal justice visa will be in place for Ms Kanbut to avoid being deported before the new trial can commence.

Judge Michael McHugh granted Ms Kanbut’s bail, allowing her to leave prison for the first time in three-and-a-half years.

She will be living with her ex-husband in Parkes and must report to Parkes Police Station twice a week.

“I note that this is not opposed by the crown – no doubt because on the first occasion awaiting her first trial when the accused was on bail, there was no breaches of bail and she was only taken into custody following conviction,” the Judge said.

Ms Kanbut will return to court in February.

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