Woman who kept domestic slave charged with intimidating victim, calling her from a payphone ahead of trial

A Melbourne woman who was jailed for keeping a slave in her home for eight years has been charged with intimidating the victim before the trial, calling the woman from a payphone and claiming to be a Tamil translator.

Kumuthini Kannan, 53, was due to front Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Friday but was instead represented by her lawyer David Carolan due to issues with obtaining a video link from Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, where Ms Kannan remains.

Kumuthini Kannan outside the Supreme Court in June 2021.Credit:Chris Hopkins

During the hearing, prosecutor Krista Breckweg said the fresh charges centred around an allegation that in February 2020, ahead of Ms Kannan’s Supreme Court trial, the former slave received a phone call at the care facility where she was staying.

“The call lasted about an hour and was from a female caller who spoke Tamil and introduced herself as an interpreter. It’s alleged that person was in fact Ms Kannan,” Ms Breckweg said.

During the call, police allege Ms Kannan told the woman not to repeat what she had said to police, that she had no friends, that no court would believe what she said and that she’d “lose everything”.

Ms Breckweg said the contents of the call also contained specific information about the trial that only someone with intimate knowledge of the case, who had been in court when those details were discussed, could have known.

Kandasamy (left) and Kumuthini Kannan outside court in June.Credit:Nine News

Ms Breckweg said telephone records showed the call was made from a public payphone at a Forest Hill shopping centre.

Investigators had since obtained CCTV that showed a woman walking through the shopping centre and making a call on a public pay phone, while making notes.

The next day when Ms Kannan was arrested, prosecutors allege she was wearing the same clothing as that person.

“The charges against Ms Kannan relate to an allegation firstly that she attempted to pervert the course of justice in relation to a trial in the criminal division of the Supreme Court. Namely, the trial for which she was ultimately convicted of slavery offences,” Ms Breckweg said.

“She’s also charged with committing an indictable offence while on bail, alleging that this occurred when she was on bail for the slavery offences.”

The victim later told police she believed the phone call was made to confuse her and persuade her not to give evidence at the slavery trial.

Ms Breckweg said the woman had been a victim of domestic slavery between 2007 and 2015 where medical and dental care was denied, as well as contact with her family in India.

“When the offending was discovered in July 2015, the complainant was taken to hospital … and placed in intensive care,” Ms Breckweg said.

There, it was discovered she was suffering from hypothermia, septicemia, pressure sores and lesions on hands and feet.

In July, Ms Kannan and her husband were jailed for eight and six years respectively after being found guilty of intentionally possessing and using a slave, following a 10-week-long trial.

Ms Kannan was ordered to serve four years before she is eligible for parole and her husband must serve at least three years.

On Friday, prosecutors also applied to have the woman classified as a vulnerable witness and exempt from being cross-examined at an upcoming hearing due to the alleged trauma they said she suffered being cross-examined during the Supreme Court trial.

The application was later abandoned and the matter will return to court on October 1.

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