Melbourne, September 7: Sri Lankan couple, Kumuthini Kannan, 48, and Kandasamy Kannan, 52, faced the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday over allegations they kept a slave in their home in suburban Melbourne.

Each has been charged under the Commonwealth law, with one count of possessing a slave, from July 2007 to July 2015, and one count of exercising ownership over a slave.

The Sri Lankan born couple has denied the accusations. Defence lawyer Sam Norton insisted that the crime – slavery, “did not happen”.

He claimed that there was a shift in the complainant’s description of the incident.

The complainant went from saying that no crime has been committed to being held as a slave for an extended period of time, Mr Norton told the court.

“We have a situation where her version shifts 180-degrees.”

The court heard from the alleged woman kept as a slave, who cannot be named for legal reasons, that she had had a meeting with Australian Federal Police on September 24 in 2015, and also spoke with Border Protection officers.

She later attended the Box Hill Hospital on several days in September last year.

The alleged slave is currently in Australia on a justice visa.

Prosecution told the court that welfare organisations were supporting the woman.

“Her health is improving,” the prosecutor said. It is understood that a social worker will give evidence at the hearing next year.

The matter was adjourned until a committal hearing set for May 8 next year.

The maximum penalty for a slavery offence is 25 years’ imprisonment, according to Commonwealth legislation. The accused couple is not in custody.

The 2016 Global Slavery Index published by Australian human rights group, Walk Free Foundation found that almost 58 perm cent of world’s slaves are concentrated in India, among four other Asian countries.

India has the dubious distinction of hosting 18.35 million – the highest number in the world, trapped in modern day slavery.

Nidhi Mehta

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