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Virginia couple sentenced for subjecting Indian relative to ‘forced labor’ 

The husband and wife promised to enroll their cousin in a US school, but instead made him work at a gas station  

An Indian-American couple from Virginia has been sentenced by a US court for forcing a relative to work “extensive hours for minimal pay” between 2018 and 2021. The couple, now divorced, “lured” their cousin from India to the US on the pretext of enrolling him in a school, the Department of Justice said in a statement on Tuesday.   

Harmanpreet Singh, 31, was sentenced to 11.25 years in prison, while Kulbir Kaur, 43, was given 7.25 years. The now-divorced couple was also ordered to pay their cousin $225,210 in damages. In the US, the charge of forced labor carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.  

After the couple brought their younger cousin over from India, they confiscated his immigration documents and subjected him to “threats, physical force and mental abuse” to coerce him to work at their gas station and convenience store in North Chesterfield.  

The accused “enticed” the relative, then a minor, to travel to the US in 2018, promising to get him enrolled in a school, the DOJ statement noted. However, after arriving in the US, they immediately seized his documents and put him to work. According to evidence presented at the trial, the victim was made to work between 12 and 17 hours a day, nearly every day, for “minimal pay.”

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“The Singh couple exploited the victim’s trust and his desire to attend school in the United States,” Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney General of the Justice Department said, condemning the couple’s actions. “This sentence should send a strong message that such forced labor will not be tolerated in our communities,” she added.  

Jessica Aber, US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said the crimes committed by the defendants “are not merely violations of the law; they are an affront to humanity.” 

The sentence in the case was handed out against the backdrop of another major controversy over subjecting Indians to “forced labor.”  

Last week, a Swiss court sentenced 79-year-old Indian-British tycoon Prakash Hinduja and three members of his family to four years in prison for allegedly exploiting domestic staff at their villa in Switzerland. With a fortune estimated at $47 billion, the Hindujas are the richest family in the UK.

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