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A federal judge has allowed a millionaire couple accused of keeping two Indonesian women as slaves to post bail, despite objections from prosecutors that the pair might flee the country.

Varsha Mahender Sabhnani, 35, and her husband, Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani, 51, will be permitted to post $3.5 million bail under conditions including home detention, telephone wiretaps and 24-hour surveillance, U.S. District Judge Thomas Platt ruled Wednesday.

"We're very, very pleased that the defendants are getting out," said Jeffrey Hoffman, a member of the defense team.

Prosecutors objected, saying the Sabhnanis might have hidden financial assets they could use to flee the country.

The Sabhnanis, who operate a worldwide perfume business out of their mansion in Muttontown on Long Island, were arrested May 13 after one of the Indonesian women was found wandering outside a nearby doughnut shop. She apparently had escaped the night before when she was putting out the trash, prosecutors said.

The second victim was found when agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement searched the house later that day.

(Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

NRI couple under 'house arrest' for slavery
1 Jun, 2007 l 0018 hrs ISTlPTI
Write to Editor

NEW YORK: An Indian-American couple accused of enslaving and torturing two Indonesian maids were allowed to post a $3.5 million bail under strict conditions, including home detention and 24-hour surveillance. A US federal Judge, while allowing to post the couple's bail application, put strict conditions which would not permit them to leave the house except for visiting doctor, attorneys and temple.

The movements of Varsha Mahender Sabhnani, 35, and her husband Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani, 51, will be electronically monitored and they will be under 24-hour surveillance.

The bail amount includes 2.5 million for Varsha, who was accused of actually torturing the Indonesian women and one million for Mahender, who was accused of allowing the torture to take place. The prosecutors and defence attorneys will now work out the exact working details of the security arrangements and the US District Court Justice Thomas Platt had given them until Friday to do so.

All expenses incurred by the state on the detention will be paid for by the couple. Besides, their children would not be allowed to bring and take any packages or messages for and from their parents. For all practical purposes, their home would be turned into a jail at their own expense, Pratt observed


NRI millionaire couple held for keeping servants as slaves


CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y, May 18, 2007
Naresh Sharma

Mrs Varsha Mahender Sabhnani, 35, and NRI Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani, 51 are charged for keeping two Indonesian women servants as prisoners in their Long Island home for the last several years. They were charged under a federal law that makes it illegal to force someone to work under threat of violence.

The Indonesian women were identified in court papers as Samirah and Nona and both women arrived in the US in 2002 legally. They took their passports and they were not permitted to leave the home.

The Couple promised to pay the two Indonesian women, payments of $200 and $100 a month but the women never received any money from the couple. One of the women said they sent $100 a month to her daughter in Indonesia.

The federal prosecutor Demetri Jones said, "No one would ever think that human beings were being brought into the United States and held for slave labor, and beaten, and tortured in a beautiful mansion right here in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods on Long Island."

The Couple were arraigned in U.S. District Court in Central Islip on charges under a federal anti-slavery statute of obtaining "the labor and services of another person by use of threats of serious physical harm to and physical restraint against that person."

Mrs Varsha Mahender Sabhnani's bail for was set at $2.5 million and for her husband, Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani at $1 million. They were ordered by a judge to hand over their U.S. passports. If convicted, each faces a sentence of between 17 to 22 years in prison.

An assistant United States attorney for the Eastern District, Demetri M. Jones told Magistrate Tomlinson that the couple were a flight risk and should be held without bail for the duration of their prosecution because they had extensive business and family contacts throughout Asia.

The prosecutors said:

  • Mrs Varsha Sabhnani tortures the woman when she unable to find an item of clothing or believing that the women were stealing food. Her husband allowed the torture to go on.
  • The women were beaten, forced to take about 30 showers in 3 hours
  • She had scalding water thrown on them
  • The women had to climb up and down the stairs as much as 150 times in a row
  • One lady even had to eat 25 hot chili peppers at one time
  • The women had to sleep on mats on the kitchen floor.
  • The women worked 21 hours a day from 4 am until 1 am.
  • The women were not allowed to leave the house for any reason except to take the garbage out.
  • One lady was cut behind her ears with a pocket knife.
  • The two women also told the investigating officers that they were never given sufficient amounts of food, and so they had to steal food and hide it from their employers.
  • The visas of both women, as was admitted by the Sabhnanis to the police, had expired and they were being kept illegally.

The employees of a doughnut shop called the police when they saw woman was wearing only pant and a towel draped around her shoulders. Police immediately took Samirah to the hospital for treatment of obvious physical injuries to her face, arms, neck, chest, back, and cuts behind her ears, which were allegedly inflicted by Mrs Varsha Sabhnani with a pocket knife.

The police got a search warrant to search the home. They found the other woman, Nona hiding in a 3 ft by 3 ft closet under stairs leading to the basement.

NRI Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani have a perfume business and operate from their 2.5 multimillion dollar home. He owns a trademarked popular perfume named "Royal Mirage", which he sells through several corporations, including Royal Mirage Corp., RTD International, Eternal Love Perfumes Corp., PVM International Corp., and Meena Arjan Corp. He has factories in Asia and another home in Manhattan. Their bank account has $1.8 million in it.

NRI (non-resident Indian) Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani married to Varsha, an Indonesian. The couple have four children: Pooja, 22; Tina, 20; Dakshina 19; and Rahul, 17. Their two daughters away at college and a younger son and daughter living at home.

Their lawyers, Charles A. Ross and Alexandra Tseitlin of Manhattan, said the accusations against the Sabhnanis amounted to nothing more than “an assault allegation.” The lawyers also claim the women were free to leave at any time, that his clients traveled a lot with business. He claimed they are "law abiding citizens."

The Sabhnani's pleaded not guilty.

Expert says: It is not usual for the employers of domestic servants to be charged under a 2000 federal law that bans human trafficking. Most prosecutions under that law have involved traffickers in prostitution.





Avtar Grewal

NRI (non-resident Indian) Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani married to Varsha, an Indonesian.

  • He owns a trademarked popular perfume named "Royal Mirage"


Sabhnani Varsha