Page last updated at 09:01 GMT, Friday, 27 June 2008 10:01 UK

US 'slavery' woman given 11 years

Varsha Mahender Sabhnani
Mrs Sabhnani kept the women as "modern-day slaves"

A wealthy New York woman has been sentenced to 11 years in jail for keeping two Indonesian women as slaves.

Varsha Mahender Sabhnani, 46, and her husband Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani, 51, kept them as slaves and abused them physically and psychologically.

The couple had been found guilty on 12 charges in December, including involuntary servitude, harbouring aliens and forced labour.

Mr Sabhnani is to be sentenced later on Friday and may get a shorter term.

In addition to prison, his Indian-born wife was fined $25,000 (12,600).

"I just want to say that I love my children very much," she told the federal court in Central Islip, on New York state's Long Island, as two of her grown children looked on.

"I was brought to this earth to help people who are in need."

Her husband wept as his wife's sentence was announced.

The wealthy couple, who run a perfume business and have four children, had brought the women to their large house to work as housekeepers, and forced them to work up to 18 hours a day.

The couple were arrested after one of the women was found wandering the streets dressed in only trousers and a towel.

Regular beatings

Prosecutors had described the case as "modern-day slavery".

They described how the two Indonesian women had been punished for misbehaviour such as sleeping late and stealing food from the dustbin to supplement their meagre meals.

Domestic workers held a protest during Ms Sabhnani's sentencing
Domestic workers held a protest during the sentencing of Mrs Sabhnani
The women said they had been beaten with brooms and umbrellas, slashed with knives, made to take freezing showers and climb stairs repeatedly.

One said she had been forced to eat several hot chillies and then her own vomit.

US District Judge Arthur Spatt called the testimony "eye-opening, to say the least - that things like that go on in our country".

He postponed a decision on the amount of back pay owed to the two women. Prosecutors have suggested they were due more than $1.1m.

Lawyers for the accused had argued that the housekeepers practised witchcraft and may have abused themselves.

They had said the couple spent a lot of time abroad and that the two Indonesian women would have been free to leave whenever they wanted.

The pair were described as "model citizens" who wanted only to clear their names.

The women, identified as Nona and Samirah, arrived in the US legally in 2002 but had their passports confiscated by the Sabhnanis, officials said. Their visas have since expired.

US 'slavery' couple found guilty
17 Dec 07 |  Americas
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