In November 2007, Mr Zoltan Kovacs and his wife, Ms Melita Kovacs were each tried and convicted for offences of intentionally possessing a slave (s270.3(1) of Criminal Code), intentionally exercising over a slave a power attaching to the right of ownership (s270.3(1) of Criminal Code) and for arranging a marriage for the purpose of assisting the victim to obtain Australian permanent residence (s240(1) of Migration Act).

In around the year 2000, Mr and Mrs Kovacs devised a plan whereby a friend of Mr Kovacs, Mr Balint Olasz, would marry a Filipina woman and bring her to Australia where she would work for the Kovacs, both in their take away shop and their home as a child minder and housekeeper. The victim’s aunt was approached by Mrs Kovacs to identify a suitable woman to marry Mr Olasz and work in Australia. The aunt suggested the victim, who was at the time 25 years old, living with nine other members of her family in a one room, dwelling with no electricity, running water or telephone. The victim also had a son who was ill and a mother who was also in poor health. The victim’s mother encouraged her to go to Australia to earn money to support the family.

Prior to her arrival in Australia, the victim was told she would earn $800 for doing domestic work, which she assumed would be paid monthly. She was informed that expenses incurred in bringing her to Australia would be deducted from this total but she was not told the amount of these expenses. The victim was also told that she would need to marry a white Australian man to assist her in obtaining a visa, but that the marriage would be a sham.

The victim married the Australian man in January 2001 and arrived in Australia in August 2002, where she was met at the airport by Mr Kovacs. Mr Kovacs took her to a motel where he raped her three times. She was then taken to the shop owned by Mr and Mrs Kovacs where she was forced to work from 6am-6pm. After finishing work, she was required to do domestic work until around 10-11pm. The victim worked 7 days per week and was not given time off.

Mr Kovacs continued to rape the victim two to three times a week at the shop and sometimes at the house when his wife was not around. He warned the victim not to say anything to police or else they would both go to gaol. The victim attempted to escape on one occasion but was located and forcibly returned by Mr and Mrs Kovacs. A few months later, she successfully escaped with the help of Mr and Mrs Kovacs daughter and an employee at the shop.

In December 2007, Mr Kovacs was sentenced to eight years imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of three years and nine months. Mrs Kovacs was sentenced to four years imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 18 months. Immediately after sentencing, both Mr and Mrs Kovacs appealed their convictions in respect of the slavery charges. The Queensland Court of Appeal upheld the appeals on the basis that a miscarriage of justice had occurred due to two errors of law by the trial judge under the Queensland Evidence Act. The Court of Appeal set aside the verdicts of guilty and ordered retrials. Mr Kovacs pleaded guilty to the charges and was given a total effective sentence of twelve years imprisonment with a non-parole period of one year and three months (taking into account time already spent incarcerated). In February 2010, following a six-day retrial, Ms Kovacs was again convicted on all counts and was given a total effective sentence of four years imprisonment with a non-parole period of nine months (taking into consideration time already spent incarcerated). Ms Kovacs again attempted to appeal against her conviction and sentence however this appeal was later withdrawn.

 

Case citations

R v Melita Kovacs [2009] QCA 116

R v Kovacs [2008] QCA 417

R v Kovacs [2007] QCA 441

 

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