7 Feb 2003

Honolulu jury deliberates American Samoan modern slavery case

4:30 pm on 7 February 2003

A 12-member jury in Honolulu is deliberating its verdict in a landmark case over alleged modern day slavery at the now closed Daewoosa Samoa garment factory in Pago Pago.

The factory owner, Kil Soo Lee, and two former managers, Virginia Soliai and Robert Atimalala, are charged with holding more that 100 imported Asian workers in involuntary servitude and forced labour.

Lee is also charged with money laundering, attempting to bribe a bank offical and making false statements.

During the trial, prosecutors told the jury about how the defendants ordered beatings of workers who disobeyed orders and threatened to deport them if they spoke out about factory conditions

Defence lawyers dismissed the claims as nonsense, saying the Vietnamese and Chinese workers had a taste of democracy in action.

Lee's lawyer, Alexander Silvert, says before retiring, the jury was given instructions by the judge on prosecutorial evidence.

"The government made certain arguments that the court found inappropriate and before the jury went away today with the case the court instructed them that those three arguments were to be ignored and they could not consider them. One had to do with how long the investigation was and that they wouldn't have brought the case unless they thought the defendants were guilty. A second argument had to do with whether missionaries are more beleivable than other witnesses which is not allowed. And the third argument is is a technical argument."

Alexander Silvert.

If convicted on all charges, Kil Soo Lee faces up to 360 years in prison.