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Emily Woods

Doctor jailed for forcing refugee to work at candy shop

Melbourne doctor Seyyed Farshchi has been jailed for forced labour offences. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

An Iranian asylum seeker was trying to create a new life for his family in Australia when he started working gruelling hours for little pay at a candy store.

The Persian confectionary shop was owned by Melbourne doctor Seyyed Farshchi, who told the man he first needed to complete an unpaid three-month training program.

When he finished training he was paid just $10 an hour.

He raised concerns with Farshchi, who told him he had immigration contacts.

"Don't worry about the wage, I'll help you with your visa status," Farshchi told him.

Naghmeh Mostafaeia arrives at the County Court (file image)
Farshchi's wife, Naghmeh Mostafaei, was acquitted of aiding and abetting him. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

Farshchi then threatened to deport the man if he stopped working for him.

He also threatened to inform people in Iran that the man had converted to Christianity, a threat that County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd on Tuesday labelled as "malicious".

"When they deport you back to Iran I'm going to let them know that you're a Christian convert ... they're going to kill you over there," the court was told Farshchi said to the man.

Judge Kidd said Farshchi used a "carrot and a stick" approach to get the man to keep working for him by offering to help him secure a visa and then threatening to deport him 

"You knowingly took advantage of him, threatening to have him deported if he didn't continue working for you," he said.

"The threats you made were calculated, manipulative and pernicious, your motive was a commercial one ... sought for your business to benefit on the back of forced labour."

Farshchi was found guilty by a jury in October 2023 of causing a person to remain in forced labour and conducting a business involving forced labour.

His wife, Naghmeh Mostafaei, was acquitted of aiding and abetting him.

Farshchi learnt his fate on Tuesday, as Judge Kidd jailed him for up to three years and six months.

Seyyed Farshchi (file image)
Farshchi misused his good standing in the Persian community, a judge said. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

The man, who worked for Farshchi for 20 months between 2015 and 2017, said the physical impact of the work precluded him from working anywhere else.

"The hope and optimism I had for my future and that of my family has been stolen from me," he said in a statement.

Farshchi, who also worked as a chiropractor and ran a medical practice, was described as a "gifted and caring" clinician and community leader, in character references to court.

Judge Kidd said, while the 50-year-old's references were impressive, he had used his good standing in the Persian community to commit the offences.

Farshchi had taken advantage of an "extremely vulnerable" victim and financially benefited from the forced labour.

Only an immediate jail term was appropriate given the seriousness of his offending, the judge said.

"The court must make it clear that exploitation and abuses of power, particularly where the victim is a vulnerable member of the community, will not be tolerated," he said.

Farshchi, wearing a suit, remained silent and stared straight ahead as he was told to stand in the court dock while he was jailed.

He will be eligible for parole after serving 18 months of his sentence and was ordered to pay back more than $42,000 to his victim.

After walking into court a free man, Farshchi was taken into custody and escorted out by officers.

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