Jail for DVD pirates who used Chinese ‘slave labour’

28 July 2009

A father and his two sons have been jailed for a total of eighteen years for running a criminal multi-million pound film piracy industry in London that used ‘a slave labour force’ of Chinese workers (28 July 2009).

Khalid Sheikh, 53, and his sons, Sami 28 and Rafi, 26, from Walthamstow, east London, outsourced the pirate DVD production to a string of ‘factories’, often semi-detached houses.

Up to a hundred Chinese people slept, ate and worked in these factories in conditions described by the prosecution as ‘virtual slavery’. The police recovered confiscated passports and described the threatening environment of some of the factories where weapons were used to adorn the walls.

The brothers were each jailed for six years and the father was jailed for four years for producing pirate DVDs and laundering the proceeds. A fourth man, Xin Li, from China, spoke English and acted as an organiser of the workforce, and was sentenced for 27 months for concealing the proceeds of crime.

Klara Skrivankova, Anti-Slavery International’s Trafficking Programme Co-ordinator, said: “It is significant that those behind this crime were brought to justice only for DVD piracy rather than the crimes they committed against human beings.

“The investigation and prosecution of those guilty of using forced labour is the only way to help protect people from slavery, whether in illegal DVD production or in legitimate industries like catering or agriculture.

“The absence of a specific law to punish anyone who uses forced labour often ties the hands of the police. It is time that this loop-hole was closed and the UK said a final and firm no to slavery.”

Many of the Chinese workers will have arrived in the UK needing to repay huge debts of up to £20,000 to the ‘snake-head’ gangs that transported them into the country.

The lack of official employment opportunities for people with irregular immigration status, poor English language skills and recent crackdowns on illegal employment in Chinese restaurants means that for many recent Chinese arrivals the only option to earn money in order to repay their debt is to work for Chinese criminal gangs in the selling or making of pirate DVDs.

Detective Constable Evelyn Steeples, the officer in charge of the case, said: “As well as the exploitative conditions that Chinese workers face in the pirate DVD industry, the selling of DVDs on the streets of London is a very dangerous business. Three Chinese DVD sellers were murdered in the capital last year and many face harassment, robbery and violence from local criminals.”

The Detective Constable added: “When approached by an illegal DVD seller the British public need to consider their moral responsibility. Without the demand there would not be the trade in both the pirate DVDs and in the people who sell them.”