Two young Estonian men were lured to Perth by the promise of work but when they arrived they allegedly were threatened, had their passports taken and were told they would have to work to pay off a debt.
Detective sergeant Ken Foster said the two men, who are in their 20s and not previously known to one another found, themselves in a difficult situation, being in a foreign country and with limited knowledge of English.
"They come from different parts of the world, their views of policing are somewhat different to what we understand here, they're frightened of that type of thing, they are also a long way from home, and threats were made against them, not only them but their families in Estonia," he said.
Four Estonian nationals living in Perth, who had organised for the two men to fly to Australia, are due to appear in court next month on a number of human trafficking related charges. The alleged traffickers had set up a website for a work hire company and interviewed the men online via Skype.
Welding jobs were organised for the two men who arrived in February last year on working holiday visas which they had applied for online. According to police, the men were told they would be given assistance to get 457 working visas. It is alleged that their passports were taken from them under the threat of violence and they were told they owed money to the men.
They began the jobs that had been lined up for them with bank accounts set up for their wages to be paid into, which the alleged offenders had control of in what police call a "debt bondage" arrangement. After completing a few days' work and being given just a small amount of their wages as a living allowance, the men fled.
It was not until about July, when one of the men walked into a police station in Victoria asking for assistance, that police set up Operation Overflow-01 to investigate what had gone on. "He didn't know what to do because demands were still being made on them for money," detective sergeant Foster said.
The victims are still living in Australia and now have legitimate jobs in the eastern states. A number of charges including human trafficking, extortion, attempted fraud and stalking have been laid on four men, who are all Estonian nationals. Assistant Commissioner Craig Ward said it was believed that these were the first charges of their kind laid in Western Australia.
The operation that uncovered the alleged trafficking was a joint operation involving WA Police, Australian Federal Police and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Three men, two 24-year-olds and a 22-year-old are on bail and are next expected to face Perth Magistrates Court on April 26, while a 26-year-old man who was charged on Wednesday will appear before Perth Magistrates Court on April 9.
Detective sergeant Foster said there was a possibility that others could be in similar situations to the victims in this case. "Throughout the investigation we came across people that were heading in that direction," he said. Detective sergeant Foster said it appeared as if the men had plans to bring out more workers from Estonia and there was a good chance that there may have been other victims.
Investigations are continuing into the matter.
Detective sergeant Foster said in this incident, the company that employed the men was unaware of what was going on and said companies being approached organising work for others also needed to "do their homework" to ensure they were not being "duped." He asked people to come forward to police if they found themselves in a similar situation and also ensure they were dealing with genuine organizations before organizing to come to Australia.
Any other persons that have fallen victim to this type of activity or have information that may assist police are urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.