HomeFashionLeisure Clothing: North Korean worker recounts her escape from Malta as directors...

Leisure Clothing: North Korean worker recounts her escape from Malta as directors want to get out of jail


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Na Min-hee was only 25 when she tried to escape from Malta while working at the now-shuttered Leisure Clothing, but her first attempt failed.

The details of her life in Malta and her eventual escape emerged in an interview where she now lives, in South Korea. The timing could not have been more apt as two former directors of the company, Bin Han and Jia Liu, both Chinese nationals, filed an application in court claiming double jeopardy.

Both were jailed in 2023 when an appeal court found them guilty of human trafficking. Now, they have filed a complaint claiming their rights were breached when charged twice for the same offence (breaching employment laws).

“They took our passports… but we planned the escape on my birthday,” Na Min-hee, originally from North Korea, said in an interview earlier this month as she detailed her escape from Malta in 2015.

Bin Han, the Managing Director of the now-shuttered Leisure Clothing, owned by the Chinese government.

But Na Min-hee had a stroke of luck. Media attention to the working conditions in the Chinese-government-owned factory led her group’s “leader” to return their passports to avoid further criticism and to create the impression that North Koreans in Malta were “free”, she said.

“This was our chance. We had to leave then.”

She decided to escape with another two North Korean workers, but their first attempt failed.

‘Living almost like a machine’

One of the group members worked at a restaurant and did not have her passport. They decided on an alternative plan to catch the ferry to Sicily and head to Germany.

She is now based in South Korea, and while she smiles as she recounts her experience in Malta, the details are harrowing.

“I got an offer to go to Europe. There is a country called Malta that is located near Italy. They hired technicians to work in the clothing industry.”

“About 40 North Korean workers lived and worked together. Of course, there was a leader among the 40. And this leader was always monitoring us. Our passports were taken away. Every day was just work, dorm, work, dorm, living almost like a machine.” she said.

“When we went to the site, there were Vietnamese people and locals from Malta too,” she added, but they lived in different conditions.

Disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi with his wife Sai and Bin Han, former managing director of Chinese-government-owned Leisure Clothing Ltd.

She does not mention Leisure Clothing by name, but the details match reports in the country on how the factory operated, including the fact that the Chinese owned it.

Leisure Clothing was embroiled in a massive scandal in 2014 when a couple of its Vietnamese labourers were caught trying to leave Malta with fake papers.

They told the court they had no choice but to use fake passports because theirs had been taken, and they were being held hostage to work on the sewing machines at Leisure Clothing.

Meanwhile, Bin Han was living the high life and showing it while paying workers $140 a month for a seven-day week.

Bin Han was living the high life while operating a company on slave labour.

‘Complicated and lengthy’ escape

“We planned the escape for my birthday because controls would loosen on someone’s birthday. I started complaining about a toothache the day before. On my birthday, I said I needed to see a doctor. They called someone to take me, and those people who came were North Korean, too,” she said.

“Two people came. They always send North Koreans, and always in pairs or more, enforcing group actions abroad to prevent defection. But the two they sent were in on the plan,” she added.

They took the car, left the factory, returned to their lodgings, packed their things hurriedly, and headed to the airport.

“The whole process was quite complicated and lengthy. Of the three of us, one wasn’t from the factory but was working in a restaurant, so she didn’t have a passport. Passports were only for factory people, not restaurant staff,” she said.

They had to abandon the plan and stay in Malta for another couple of days.

Then, they bought ferry tickets to Sicily, “disguising” themselves as tourists. They made it to Sicily and then through Italy and Austria until they reached Germany.

They got to a refugee camp, but there were many Syrians because of the war. They felt they were not protected at the camp.

“North Korea already knew that three had escaped, so they were still trying to track us down. The embassy in Berlin said their people had come here, so they wanted to take them. We were so anxious. So we decided to change our destination to South Korea.

It’s the safest place because North Korea cannot do anything. We arrived on 23 October 2015.”

Her boss has been in jail since 2023, when an appeal court found him guilty of human trafficking. Last week, he filed an application in the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction claiming double jeopardy.

With his marketing director, Jia Liu, Bin Han claims they had already been tried for the same charges in 2016 when fined €500 for breaching the Employment and Industrial Relations Act in November 2014.

The charge of breaching employment law was also included in the (separate) human trafficking case. The law does not allow a person to be charged twice over the same incident.

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