Couple allegedly lived on prostitution earnings of dancer 'coaxed' to provide sexual services

SINGAPORE - A husband-and-wife pair allegedly lived on the prostitution earnings of a Bangladeshi woman originally hired to work as a dancer in a club the man managed.

A district court heard that she was later "coaxed" to perform sex work.

The two Indian nationals, Priyanka Bhattacharya Rajesh, 31, and her husband Malkar Savlaram Anant, 51, have claimed trial to prostitution-related charges under the Women's Charter.

They are also accused of three offences each under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act.

Court documents stated that Priyanka and Malkar allegedly harboured three Bangladeshi women - including the sex worker - "by means of abuse of power for the purpose of exploitation... in Singapore".

The women and their workplaces cannot be named due to a gag order to protect their identities.

The Straits Times understands that this case could potentially lead to the first labour trafficking conviction under the Act.

Following a trial, District Judge Shaiffudin Saruwan had been expected to give his verdict on Wednesday (Oct 23).

However, he asked for more submissions and is now expected to give his verdict on Nov 15.

 
 
 

In their earlier submissions, Deputy Public Prosecutors James Chew and Rimplejit Kaur said Malkar was the sole managing operator of a Hindi entertainment club in the city area.

He was responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the club, including recruiting performing artists with the help of employment agents in India and Bangladesh, as well as managing the performers.

He was also responsible for the recruitment of performing artists at a second Hindi entertainment club near the other nightspot.

The DPPs said that Priyanka also managed the day-to-day operations of both clubs.

The Bangladeshi who later became a sex worker was hired as a dancer for one of the clubs. She arrived in Singapore on Dec 22, 2015.

The two other Bangladeshis, who came in 2016, worked as dancers in the other club. The trio were promised a monthly salary of 60,000 Bangladeshi taka (S$970).

The prosecutors added: "The duties of the victims included dancing to Indian music for customers at the clubs in order to earn tips. The victims deposited the tips obtained into their respective compartments of the box. These tips formed part of the revenue of (both clubs)."

The three women worked between 10pm and 5am daily with no days off, the court heard. They also lived with the couple in a Kitchener Road flat near Jalan Besar.

The DPPs told Judge Shaiffudin that Priyanka and Malkar "abused their power as employers by subjecting the victims to verbal abuse, onerous financial penalties should they decide to resign, close surveillance, and tight control over their movement and communications".

They also said that the couple "kept the victims on a tight leash by a combination of surveillance, confinement, a climate of fear, financial bondage and confiscation of passports".

Court documents stated that Priyanka approached the Bangladeshi woman about a month after she arrived here and told her that she had to collect tips amounting to at least $10,000 each month, failing which she would not be paid her full salary.

The DPPs added that Priyanka had also told her she would have to "go out with customers".

The woman had earlier testified that this meant she had to have sexual intercourse with them.

When she said she wanted to return to Bangladesh, Priyanka told her she must pay about 400,000 Bangladeshi taka before she could return home, said the DPPs.

The prosecutors also said Priyanka "lured" the woman into providing sexual services by misleadingly promising her that she could keep half of the payments received.

The Bangladeshi eventually relented on four separate occasions and her earnings went to the couple, the court heard.

The DPPs said she provided sexual services to three men between February and May 2016, receiving up to $2,000 in tips at her workplace on each occasion.

She finally ran away from the club through the back door later that month.

During the trial, Priyanka testified that she had "no involvement at all in the work of the clubs".

She also denied any knowledge or involvement in procuring or arranging for any of the performing artists to go out with customers for sex.

Malkar had also testified that his wife had "no involvement" in the clubs. The couple, who are represented by lawyer Jayakumar Naidu, are now on bail of $20,000 each.

For each charge, first-time offenders convicted of the crime under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act can be jailed for up to 10 years, fined up to $100,000 and receive up to six strokes of the cane.