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Last Updated:  Saturday, 22 February, 2003, 08:53 GMT
US factory boss guilty of 'slavery'
The owner of a clothes factory in American Samoa has been convicted of what prosecutors called "modern-day slavery".

Kil Soo Lee was found guilty of abusing workers from Vietnam and China and other crimes including money laundering and extortion.

During his trial, he was accused of ordering beatings for disobedient employees, starving workers or threatening them with deportation if they complained.

Human trafficking is more than just a serious violation of the law; it is an affront to human dignity
John Ashcroft
US Attorney General
Two factory managers were cleared of similar charges during the trial, held in Hawaii as the territory of American Samoa has no federal judge.

Lou deBaca of the US Department of Justice said: "Kil Soo Lee has exploited over 200 Vietnamese and Chinese people in what amounted to nothing less than modern-day slavery."

Lee owns the Daweoosa Samoa company which made clothes for the JC Penney chain as well as other retailers before it closed.

He faces sentences of up to 20 years for each of 11 counts of involuntary servitude and a maximum of 10 years for each of the other charges.

He was cleared of bribery charges and three counts of involuntary servitude.

He is scheduled to be sentenced in June.

Witnesses challenged

Prosecutors said workers paid thousands of dollars to gain employment at the factory in the US territory.

But once there, they were effectively enslaved.

Defence lawyers had challenged the credibility of prosecution witnesses, saying their statements were full of discrepancies and lies.

Two of Lee's managers, Virginia Solia'i and Robert Atimalala, were found innocent of all charges.

Two other employees had earlier pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary servitude.

US Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a statement welcoming the guilty verdict as a victory in the largest human trafficking case investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by the Department of Justice.

"Human trafficking is more than just a serious violation of the law; it is an affront to human dignity," he said.

"Today's conviction demonstrates that the Department of Justice is firmly committed to ensuring that those who traffic in human lives are aggressively investigated, swiftly prosecuted and firmly punished."



The BBC's Alix Kroeger
"This is not the first case involving Mr Lee's factory"

Millions 'forced into slavery'
27 May 02 |  In Depth

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