A man accused of trafficking more than a dozen people into the country lured his victims with promises of good pay, exploited them for cheap labour and left them to return home penniless and ashamed, prosecutors say.
Faroz Ali, 46, is standing trial at the High Court in Auckland facing 15 charges of people trafficking and 16 others for helping people illegally get into, or stay in, the country.
The Crown alleges between 2013 and 2015, Ali, a Fijian national who holds New Zealand residency, charged 15 Fijian workers he illegally brought into the country money for the opportunity to work in New Zealand and then subjected them to exploitative working conditions on farms in the Bay of Plenty.
Opening the prosecution case on Monday, Crown lawyer Luke Clancy told the court Ali and his associates had run a "scam" in Fiji to recruit workers, promising pay of up to $17 an hour in New Zealand for horticulture and construction jobs.
They charged the workers hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of Fijian dollars to arrange to bring them over.
But when the workers arrived, they were barely paid, if at all, were forced to live in overcrowded houses, and were never given the work visas they had been promised, Mr Clancy said.
"They were exploited, they were left with nothing and had to return to Fiji, ashamed at having to explain to their friends and family ... they had been misled, deceived and ripped off."
He said the workers had come over in hopes of earning money to create better lives for their families back home and many had borrowed money to pay the fees sought by Ali's associates in Fiji.
Ali had intentionally exploited the workers out of simple greed, Mr Clancy said.
One group of three women and a man working in Tauranga picking kiwi fruit had been left to sleep on a floor until they bought their own bedding and were told they actually owed money after their first week of work, the prosecutor said.
All the alleged victims have since returned to Fiji, although several will return to New Zealand to testify.
But defence lawyer Peter Broad told the court Ali didn't know what the workers were being promised in Fiji, because he had been in New Zealand when they signed up.
At the start of his trial on Monday, Ali pleaded guilty to another 18 charges of not paying illegal workers the minimum wage or holiday pay along with eight other charges of helping people breach their visa conditions.
About 10 translators have been requested for the trial due to the various languages spoken by witnesses, including Bengali, Fijian, Fiji Hindi, Portuguese, Punjabi, Samoan, Sinhalese and Spanish.
The trial has been set down for six weeks.