A man accused of keeping a woman as a slave has been sent to trial after failing to pay a lawyer to represent him and his wife in court.
Chee Kit ‘Max’ Chong, 44, pleaded not guilty Monday in Melbourne Magistrate Court to three counts of slavery after he was denied a stay so he could pay his lawyer to represent him in court. preliminary hearing.
While represented by criminal attorney Elizabeth McKinnon, the court heard that she had not been paid and had virtually no information to pursue Chong’s case.
Chee Kit Chong, 44, and Angie Yeh Ling Liaw, 29, are charged with committing crimes against humanity
Two AFP agents escort Chee Kit Chong after his arrest last year
In ludicrous scenes, Chong’s wife, Angie Yeh Ling Liaw, 29, told the court that her husband had assured her that McKinnon would also represent her, a claim the seasoned lawyer strongly refuted on Monday.
“The lawyer representing my husband, I heard they found a lawyer who will also represent me,” Liaw said through an interpreter.
‘This matter is very unfair to me… the information came from my husband.’
The court heard that the married couple had repeatedly delayed the preliminary hearing by failing to pay various lawyers.
A fed up magistrate, Belinda Franjic, told the couple that she refused to delay the hearing any longer and demanded that Liaw represent herself without a lawyer.
The upset magistrate said Chong had delayed the trial since November last year when he was charged with the offences.
Liaw was doing little better, appearing in court four times, failing each time due to complications with obtaining a lawyer.
Magistrate Franjic said she had advised the couple that she would not delay the matter again as her alleged victim had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
“I think that the fact that the prosecution has a complainant who has a diagnosis of a terminal illness gives the matter great urgency,” he said.
The preliminary hearing allows accused criminals to call witnesses and have their lawyers cross-examine them in the event the charges are not sent to a higher court for trial.
Ms McKinnon refused to call any witnesses or make submissions on Chong’s behalf, leaving him to stand trial in Victoria County Court.
Chee Kit Chong is accused of keeping a woman as a slave
But while Chong was quick to reply that he was not guilty on all counts, his bewildered wife had no idea what the magistrate was asking of her when he asked her to plead guilty.
Liaw told the court that he had evidence to support his claims that the couple’s alleged victim was not a slave.
“I have photos of her going out with us,” he told the court.
Liaw told the court that he wanted to enter the witness box and present his evidence in court.
The matter was stayed to allow Liaw to appear in court after she previously appeared via video link from a different location than her husband.
The couple from Point Cook, in Melbourne’s western suburbs, both facing charges of possession of a slave, using coercion and threats to hold another person in servitude, and exercising control over a slave.
The couple faces up to 25 years in jail, with slavery being considered a “crime against humanity.”
Chee Kit Chong pleads not guilty to slavery charges
In 2021, Melbourne couple Kumuthini and Kandasamy Kannan were found guilty by a High Court jury of owning a slave and exercising power over a slave and were sentenced to eight and six years in prison respectively.
The court heard that the Point Cook couple’s alleged slave was identified by medical professionals, some of whom were expected to testify at the preliminary hearing.
The couple’s alleged slave, whose name cannot be identified, is understood to have been staying in Australia with the couple on a temporary visa.
The couple’s arrest followed an eight-month investigation by the Australian Federal Police, who proudly paraded Chong’ to the media during his arrest.
Authorities were alerted in October 2022 by a health worker who visited the address and had concerns that the woman allegedly “exhibited indicators of human trafficking.”
The AFP alleges that the woman was “held in domestic servitude” at the couple’s home in Point Cook between January and October 2022.
Officers raided the property on October 27 of last year and charged Chong the following month.
His wife was not charged until April of this year.
Angie Yeh Ling Liaw was arrested months after AFP agents pounced on her husband
AFP officers paraded Chee Kit ‘Max’ Chong after his arrest
AFP officers raided the property on October 27, 2022 after a health worker visited the address and expressed concern.
In May, AFP Detective Superintendent Simone Butcher said the AFP trains first responders, health professionals and the community to recognize the indicators of human trafficking and slavery.
‘Everyone can play a role in stopping human trafficking. We encourage anyone who suspects human trafficking or sees anything suspicious to report it,” said the butcher superintendent.
“Without the help of the community, in this case healthcare professionals, victims may go unnoticed and we would not be able to provide them with the help and support they need.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking or slavery, you can make a complaint to the AFP by calling 131 AFP (131 237).