A Melbourne woman, aged 55, who was previously convicted for holding an Indian-origin Tamil woman captive for eight years, has been given an extra prison term of two-and-a-half years for intimidating the victim ahead of her testimony in the court proceedings.
The woman, identified as Kumuthini Kannan, along with her husband Kandasamy Kannan, was found guilty and sentenced earlier for enslaving the victim, who is in her 60s, at their residence in Mount Waverley from 2007 to 2015, as stated by the police in an official statement released on Saturday.
Kumuthini Kannan, who subjected her victim to exhausting 23-hour work days resulting in severe health deterioration and a weight of only 40 kilograms, delivered a final insult to the woman just before her court appearance on slavery charges. Masquerading as a Tamil interpreter, the 55-year-old Kannan utilised a pay phone in a suburban shopping centre to contact the victim, who was residing in an aged care home at the time.
In the hour-long conversation that took place on February 16, 2020, Kannan repeatedly cautioned the woman against testifying against herself and her husband, Kandasamy, who were accused of holding the woman captive as a slave in their Mount Waverley residence from 2007 to 2015.
“Think of me as a mother, do as I say, trust me… don’t repeat what you said earlier. You will not provide your testimony in court, or they will never send you back. You will rot in this country,” Kumuthini Kannan instructed the woman during the phone call.
According to the victim’s statement to the police, although she initially didn’t recognise the caller’s voice, she later believed it to be Kumuthini Kannan. The victim, now in her 70s, described the call as causing her to scream, cry, and suffer from sleeplessness.
However, County Court Judge Martine Marich emphasised that Kannan’s efforts were futile. During the sentencing hearing on Friday, Judge Marich commended the victim for her remarkable courage in giving evidence despite her advanced age, vulnerable background, and a prolonged period of social vulnerability while being enslaved by Kannan.
Authorities were able to track Kannan using phone records, which indicated that the call originated from a public phone at Forest Hill Chase shopping centre around 8 p.m. Surveillance footage from the shopping centre captured Kannan’s arrival, her presence in the food court on the first level, and her approach to the phone booth.
A witness at the shopping centre recalled that it was uncommon for the payphone to be used and remembered seeing a woman holding the phone receiver to her left ear while taking notes.
On February 20, 2020, Australian Federal Police executed a search warrant at Kannan’s residence and discovered her wearing the same attire seen in the shopping centre’s CCTV footage.
Initially, Kannan admitted to being at the shopping centre but claimed that she had only gone to visit a sushi restaurant, which was closed upon her arrival. However, she later pleaded guilty to attempting to pervert the course of justice.
The victim’s plight first came to the attention of authorities in July 2015 when ambulance paramedics were summoned to the residence and found her in a dire condition. She was discovered on the bathroom floor, emaciated, hypothermic, covered in sores, and weighing approximately 40 kilograms.
The victim later disclosed to the police that she was made to work for the Kannan family for 23 hours a day, carrying out tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the couple and their three children.
During her testimony, the victim revealed the extensive abuse she endured throughout her time with the family. She stated that her passport was confiscated, she was physically assaulted with a frozen chicken, scalded with hot tea, and even pushed down the stairs.
In 2021, Supreme Court Justice John Champion sentenced Kannan, then 55 years old, to eight years in prison, and her husband, then 57, to six years. The couple had been found guilty of intentionally possessing and using a slave following a trial that concluded three months prior.
Justice Champion, acknowledging that this case marked the first prosecution of domestic slavery in Australia, ordered that Kannan serve a minimum of four years before being eligible for parole, while her husband was required to serve at least three years.
During the recent sentencing by Judge Marich, Kannan received a 2½-year prison term for the charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice. However, a significant portion of that term was ordered to run concurrently with her sentence for the slavery charges.
Having already spent approximately two years in custody, Kannan must serve an additional 2½ years before becoming eligible for parole.