Accused Vic sex syndicate boss out of cash

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.