The alleged ringleader of an Asian sex worker syndicate splashed out $7000 on karaoke nights and shopped in exclusive Melbourne boutiques but can’t afford the $100,000 to get bail, her lawyer says.


Mae Ja Kim, 39, is accused of running an illegal syndicate of 100 sex workers, taking more than 40 per cent of their earnings through a complex system of overseers.

She allegedly threatened to kill a rival for “snatching girls” in one of the 60,000 phone calls police intercepted, the Victorian County Court heard.

Police allege Kim, of Southbank, managed the movement of the sex workers between several Melbourne brothels and called the shots in the illegal operation.

She also lived a lavish lifestyle, spending up to $7000 on nights at karaoke bars and thousands on decadent lunches, the court heard on Thursday.

Kim was a regular at Melbourne’s top fashion boutiques, with her barrister Richard Backwell describing her wardrobe as the most valuable thing she owned.

“She had very expensive nights out or lunches in the thousands of dollars,” Mr Backwell said.

But he said she could not afford to pay the $100,000 bail surety to the court proposed by Judge Richard Maidment.

Police seized her wardrobe and her expensive tastes had left her with negligible savings, Mr Backwell said.

He instead proposed a $15,000 surety.

Mr Backwell said Kim should be bailed given she will have been in custody for two years by the time her trial starts in August 2015.

But police fear Kim will reoffend or flee abroad if she is released on bail.

Prosecutor Stephen Devlin said the $15,000 surety was inadequate.

“That would basically equate to two nights out for her,” he said.

Kim was arrested during police raids on the brothels in July 2013.

She has been charged with dealing in the proceeds of crime and living on the earnings of sex workers.

Detective Leading Senior Constable James Cheshire told the court police believed Kim had operated the syndicate for 10 years.

He described her as a ruthless leader of her organisation, imposing penalties on employees who did not follow her instructions.

The syndicate targeted sex workers from abroad, karaoke singers from South Korea or vulnerable women in Australia facing heavy debts, Det Sen Const Cheshire said.

The hearing was adjourned for a week so Kim’s defence can provide further details of her finances.

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Substance abuse, failed relationships and, sometimes, even premature death are some of the devastating results for adults abused as children.


Their stories are being told at Australia’s royal commission into child sexual abuse, but that is not the only place.

Some of their voices are also being heard this week in Northern Ireland, at the biggest inquiry ever held in Britain.

Greg Dyett reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

“Better late than never” is how Tony Costa characterises his journey back to Northern Ireland after first arriving in Australia in 1953 at age 11.

Now 73, he has returned to share his story with the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry.

Tony Costa was among the child migrants sent to Australia under a child-migration program that ran from the 1920s until the 1970s.

“There’s an old saying ‘Better late than never,’ but the reality is that, if we can learn at any time from that appalling experience of some 60 odd years ago … and to do that, we want to see the rights — the wrongs, rather — are being righted by what is called rightful justice.”

Mr Costa, a former mayor of Subiaco, Western Australia, was sent to the Bindoon Boys Home in Western Australia, run at the time by the Christian Brothers.

The inquiry has heard some of the boys were sexually abused.

“Many of these former child migrants, through the scarring of their journey and the trauma and the stress and the degradation, they’ve inherited a number of health issues as a result of the treatment which they’ve received. So, for that reason, I can see the urgency of compensation, because a lot of these men and women, former child migrants, are now in their 70s and on. Whatever comes out of it, if they can learn from that (tale) to ensure that no generation of children would ever be subjected to a repetition of what we went through and, dare I use the word, survived …”

In this week’s hearings, the inquiry was told nuns changed the name of a child migrant before he sailed to Australia to ensure he could not be traced.

The nuns travelled on the ships to Australia, and one is reported to have told the children she hoped the ship would sink as punishment for their misbehaviour.

When they arrived in Fremantle, one of the migrants asked a nun when they would be going home.

The former child migrant told the inquiry:

“She hit me a clout over the ear. We didn’t realise how far Australia was from Ireland. We didn’t at any stage realise that we would not be going home. We were just orphans in their view and had to do what we were told.”

The senior counsel to the inquiry, Christine Smith, QC, says around 130 children were sent to Australia.

“It has proved extremely difficult to obtain precise figures as to how many children from institutions in Northern Ireland, falling within the inquiry’s terms of reference, were sent to Australia, because such records as were kept are not complete. Nevertheless, from the information provided to the inquiry by the Sisters of Nazereth, and from the inquiry’s own searches in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, it appears that approximately 131 children within our terms of reference may have been sent to Australia.”

The retired judge chairing the inquiry, Sir Anthony Hart, has assured the Australian witnesses all their evidence will go to the royal commission in Australia if child abuse is alleged.

Tony Costa says righting the wrongs of the past is important but there are important contemporary considerations, too, as Australia provides refuge to people fleeing conflict zones.

“That’s where I think there’s an urgency why this matter has to be addressed. If we do take these political refugees, we need to give them a guaranteed element of dignity, which is a human right.”





He’s widely regarded as a great fiscal mind, but Troy Buswell’s political career is indelibly tarnished by indiscretions including chair sniffing, an affair and that fateful night he crashed his ministerial car.


The latter incident led to Mr Buswell disclosing he had bipolar disorder and depression, and resulted in his ultimate downfall.

Mr Buswell, 48, resigned from politics on Wednesday after quitting Western Australia’s cabinet in March following revelations he had a string of car crashes while returning home from a wedding in February.

The former treasurer says his mental health is improving and he now has a better understanding of his actions.

He decided it was time to move on after he realised he no longer had zeal for the job.

“I don’t have the enthusiasm or the passion that I think you need to have to be an effective member of parliament,” Mr Buswell tells Network Seven in an interview to be aired on Thursday night.

A one-time heir apparent to Premier Colin Barnett, Mr Buswell’s many indiscretions have included sniffing the chair of a Liberal staffer in 2008 and a 2010 affair with then-Greens MP Adele Carles.

Mr Barnett, who repeatedly defended Mr Buswell despite calls for him to be sacked, admitted it had dented the government’s image, but said that was the responsibility of being a leader and friend.

“I’m not going to desert my friends, particularly when they’re unwell,” he said.

“I think the government did suffer from that, but we’ll move on.”

The premier said Mr Buswell was an outstanding minister and hoped history would judge him kindly for his debating skills, fiscal abilities and transport projects.

Mr Barnett also lashed out at the “insensitive” opposition for ridiculing Mr Buswell, labelling it “one of the low points” during his political career.

He said a book could be written about Mr Buswell, who had the “most extraordinary experience” that he had witnessed in politics.

Born in Bunbury, Mr Buswell completed a Bachelor of Economics and was a Busselton councillor for six years, the last two as shire president.

He joined state parliament in 2005 and served as deputy opposition leader before leading the Liberals for eight months in 2008, stepping down following poor internal polling of his election prospects after he sniffed the chair of a female staff member.

Mr Buswell’s resignation has triggered a by-election in Vasse where he is extremely popular and Mr Barnett expects a swing against the Liberals, but still hopes to retain the seat.

Speculation that former Liberal leader-turned-lobbyist Matt Birney could contest the seat was downplayed by Mr Barnett, who expects a local candidate.

Former journalist and long-time Liberal staffer Libby Mettam, 37, has been tipped as a likely candidate.

The seat is expected to remain in Liberal hands.

Internal correspondence between staff working at the centre obtained by SBS outlines claims of multiple data breaches at the centre over a period of months from April 2014, when external hard drives containing the personal details of asylum seekers were allegedly stolen.


SBS cannot verify the authenticity of the documents, but can confirm that the allegations raised in them are being investigated by Save the Children, the organisation responsible for the stored data.

The external hard drives were reportedly kept in an unlockable office, which could be accessed by any member of staff within the Nauru centre.

A staff member working at the centre claims that a number of hard drives were stolen in separate incidents, one reported only a week after an earlier theft.

The highly sensitive information could put asylum seekers in significant danger, according to lawyer David Manne.

“The real fear is that this information could fall into hands of potential persecutors – regimes or people they have fled from in fear for their lives,” he said.

“The real fear is that this information could fall into hands of potential persecutors.”

“This is even more serious than an ordinary breach of privacy. With asylum seekers, the distinct issue is that disclosure of identity to a third party could result in a heightened risk of persecution.”

A source from within the centre told SBS that the data contained on the hard drives included information on asylum claims as well as reports of torture and trauma from hundreds of asylum seekers.

“It would affect every single individual in the family camp,” the source said.

The source said the hard drives – one of which had a post-it note attached reading “Do Not Steal” – also included information on complaints and investigations involving providers within the camp.

“If a child had complained against a security guard for instance, it would have been in there,” the source said.

One of the hard drives had a post-it note attached reading “Do Not Steal”

The revelation follows allegations of sexual, physical and verbal assaults of asylum seeker children by Nauru detention centre staff, detailed as part of submissions to an Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry.

SBS understands the asylum seekers allegedly affected by the breach have not been informed.

The source told SBS that they had serious concerns regarding the security of data within the centre.

The source said that as of May 2014, hard drives containing personal data were not password protected and people had “unfettered access” to the information due to lack of security measures in place when Save the Children first took over management of the family camp.

“In the room, there was no lock on the door,” the source said.

“There were no locking filing cabinets – there were no filing cabinets at all. Clients’ files were kept on a desk… [Paper files] were just strewn on tables.”

The source acknowledged that some improvements to security had been made in recent weeks.

NGO investigating the claims

SBS put questions to Save the Children regarding the claims, but has not yet received answers.

In a statement, a Save the Children spokesman said a “thorough investigation into this very serious matter” was being conducted.

“Once we have completed our investigation our findings will be shared with the Department [of Immigration] and should it be determined that we need to implement recommendations we will do so,” it read.

SBS also put questions regarding the allegations to the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection said Mr Morrison had been advised of the investigation into the claims.

“The Minister will not pre-empt those investigations,” it read.

“It is the Minister’s and department’s expectation that service providers take care to keep personal information relating to detainees and transferees secure.”

‘More serious than an ordinary security breach’ 

Executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre David Manne said if the claims were true, the highly sensitive information held about asylum seekers could potentially end up in the hands of regimes they were escaping.

“It’s a well-established principle under refugee law that unauthorised disclosure of someone’s personal identity details when they’re seeking asylum could place them at a heightened risk of danger,” he said.

Mr Manne said it was a fundamental principle of refugee law that a person seeking asylum should be free to make their claim free of disclosure of their identity to the authorities in their home country.

He said the alleged breach could have serious implications for the claims of any asylum seekers affected.

“It may be that it could create additional fears for people of being persecuted, if the evidence indicates that there’s a real likelihood that the information has been has been disclosed to third parties,” he said.

“It’s crystal clear that identification of a person seeking protection can result in them being granted protection on that basis itself.”

Security breach in February

The alleged breach follows an incident in February when the Department of Immigration and Border Protection inadvertently published a file containing the personal data of about 10,000 asylum seekers in detention.

The highly sensitive information was available to download for more than a week before the Department removed it.

Mr Manne said that breach represented “one of the most grave and dangerous breaches of privacy in Australian history”.

He said the Department of Immigration was writing to affected asylum seekers, giving them an opportunity to comment on any concerns or fears that they may have resulting from the data breach.

“Fears of danger arising from the data breach could also constitute independent grounds for being granted protection,” he said.

An updated response was requested from the Department of Immigration, but no response was received by time of publishing.

The Senate has shot down an Australian Greens attempt to have parliament approve the deployment of Australian troops to overseas conflicts.


Only two other senators – independent Nick Xenophon and Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm – supported the 10 Greens.

Coalition, Labor, Palmer United Party and other crossbench senators voted down a private bill proposed by Greens leader Christine Milne.

Senator Milne had argued parliament should have the right to ask about the objectives and likelihood of success of any overseas mission.

“They’re legitimate questions before you send young men and women into harm’s way and before you see a plane being shot down or coffins coming back to Australia,” she told parliament on Thursday.

“We need to know why it’s in the national interest.”

The vote comes in the week Australia joined an international mission in northern Iraq, airlifting humanitarian aid and military equipment to Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State insurgents.

Opposition defence spokesman Stephen Conroy said while there should be debate in parliament about military missions, the Milne bill was “fraught with danger”.

Classified information was imperative to make military decisions and should not be released to the parliament, he said.

“It is simply not safe, appropriate or practical.”

Senator Milne’s bill is nearly identical to a Greens bill the Senate rejected in 2008.

It’s also similar to legislation proposed by the Australian Democrats several years ago.

The government argued flaws identified in those bills by parliamentary committees were contained in the Milne legislation.