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Wednesday, August 02, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor jailed over 'slave wages'

A church leader who illegally shipped South African workers to the Isle of Man and paid them "slave wages" has been jailed for three months.

Pieter Van Rooyen, 46, admitted breaking immigration laws by providing false documents to help five labourers get through immigration controls.

The pastor faked invites to a business course when they were actually renovating his luxury home.

He was jailed by High Bailiff Michael Moyle who also imposed £1,500 costs.

The workers were paid as little as £1.36 (2.38 USD) an hour - described in court as slave wages - and made to work up to 72 hours a week on his home at Lag Birrah Drive, Onchan.

Van Rooyen was the leader and founder of the Life Church in Douglas and a former offshore banking executive at Barclays.

He said he did not realise the workers were going to be paid so little and that he had budgeted with the builder to pay them a decent wage.

But Mr Moyle said the offences were committed out of greed.

Although he jailed Van Rooyen, the High Bailiff stopped short of deporting him.

A statement from the Island's Immigration Office said it was completely satisfied with the case's outcome.

"This case, which has been highly unusual for the Isle of Man, clearly demonstrates the need for vigilance and for the prompt and proper prosecution of anyone found to have committed such offences," it added.

"The Isle of Man Government will continue to pursue any breaches of immigration law with the utmost vigour, both to uphold the law and to prevent the exploitation of the vulnerable."

The building workers have all returned to South Africa.



Praise God, then get back to work
the trial of a self-styled prophet

GOD chose Pieter Van Rooyen to lead the broken, the depressed, the rejected and the confused and save their souls for Christ. Or so the balding 46-year-old South African, a former financial adviser at Barclays Bank, says.

But He is unlikely to approve of this self-appointed shepherd -- who puts himself on a par with Noah, Moses and Abraham -- importing illegal immigrants from his native country and putting them to work renovating his home on the Isle of Man, off the northwest coast of England, for pound stg. 1.36 ($3.39 AUD, $2.38 USD) an hour.

Van Rooyen and his Life Church, the evangelical ministry he founded in Douglas, the island's capital, face ruin after he appeared in a Manx court to admit charges of faking documents that allowed five South African workers to enter the country illegally.

He insisted that his intention was to coach them in spiritual matters but in reality, the court was told, they were set to work as cheap labour doing up his family home in Onchan.

The charismatic pastor is now facing a humiliating deportation. He has already resigned from his high-powered executive position advising wealthy private clients of Barclays about offshore banking opportunities.

Sarah Burton, his lawyer, admitted in court that Van Rooyen faced a difficult task explaining himself to the 800-strong congregation that meets each week to hear him preach and baptise children and lost souls.

"An example has been made of Van Rooyen, a business lecturer who holds degrees from a South African university," she said. "Having been a pillar of the community, he has fallen in the public eye."

Van Rooyen appeared in court alongside Jacobus Frederick Visser, 43, a fellow South African and an illegal immigrant. They each admitted facilitating a breach of the Immigration Act by providing travel, false documents, accommodation and subsistence for the men.

The pastor made contact with Visser, who owns a building firm in South Africa, last August. Visser gave Van Rooyen a price for the job of renovating the home the pastor shares with his wife, Sonja, and daughters Lezandri, 14, and Shandri, 12.

The court was told that Van Rooyen gave a bogus invitation which suggested that the men were to take part in a business coaching course. On the strength of the invitation, the men were allowed to enter the country in September.

Stuart Neale, for the prosecution, said Van Rooyen simply "wanted a cheap deal and provided the means to get the workers there". He said that Van Rooyen paid the workers "slave wages" by British standards. The men lived in the house for the three months they were working there and during that time Van Rooyen would not allow them out unaccompanied.

Simon Gomba, the highest-paid worker, was promised 12,000 rand ($2200 AUD, $1678 USD) a month, which he was to split with his cousin. As the work progressed, this was reduced to 10,000 rand, or about pound stg. 2 an hour. The men's hours were then extended by 15 hours to 72 hours a week, making their hourly wage only pound stg. 1.36 ($2.38 USD).

Concerned members of the public reported the workers' presence in January, prompting a raid by police and immigration officers.

Ms Burton said her client merely gave cash to Visser to pay the workers. She acknowledged he had invited them but said that he had not arranged for the men to enter the country. "It was his intention to coach them in spiritual and business matters."

At the hearing, High Bailiff Michael Moyle bailed Van Rooyen on a surety of pound stg. 5000 and told him he would be considered for deportation.

Visser was jailed for six months but the sentence was suspended for two years. Meanwhile, he will be excluded from the island for five years.

Van Rooyen was headhunted in May last year to advise Barclays clients seeking to invest offshore. With his wife he formed the Life Church. Mainstream religious leaders could only look on in envy as his weekly congregation swelled.

On the church's website, the pastor sets out his vision, putting himelf directly in the lineage of "Noah, Moses, Joseph, Abraham, Daniel, Joshua and Caleb".