In the Media

Pastor who used illegal immigrants as slave labourers is sent to jail

PUBLISHED August 2, 2006

"The light that shines the farthest shines the brightest at home," declared the wealthy South African pastor Pieter van Rooyen on the website which enticed hundreds to sign up to the church he and his wife established on the Isle of Man. Several impoverished South Africans took him at his word and were brought to their luxurious house in the historic coastal town of Onchan, the island's so-called "sunset city".

But Van Rooyen did not have their spiritual enlightenment in mind. After flying the illegal immigrants in from South Africa, the former Barclays Bank executive put them to work renovating his house on slave wages of about ?1.36 an hour. The labourers lived in the house for about three months while they worked on it. They were made to work up to 72 hours a week and were not allowed out unaccompanied.

Yesterday, the charismatic preacher paid for his crime. Despite a recent posting on his Life Church website, invoking his followers to "pray for a miracle" on the day of his sentencing, he was sent to prison for three months for facilitating illegal immigration. The High Bailiff, Michael Moyle, sitting at a court in Douglas, the island's capital, told Van Rooyen, who admitted being knowingly involved in the importation of South Africans, that he would have to pay costs of ?1,500 or face an additional three months in prison.

Van Rooyen was headhunted in May last year to advise Barclays clients seeking to invest offshore. But with his wife, Sonja, he also formed the Life Church, an offshoot of a church formed by Pastor Robert Maasbach in Folkestone. The church's website encourages visitors to buy a range of CD sets and to receive a free gift if they spend ?10 or more. On the same site, Pastor Rooyen places himself directly in the lineage of "Noah, Moses, Abraham, Daniel, Joshua and Caleb".
The pastor, a business lecturer with several degrees from South African universities, also had an eye on his home improvements. He made contact last August with Jacobus Frederick Visser, 43, who owned a building company in South Africa, and they hatched their plan to get cheap South African labour to renovate the home Van Rooyen shared with his wife and their daughters Lezandri, 14, and Shandri, 12. Van Rooyen provided a false invitation which suggested the men were to take part in a business course and, on the basis of it, they were allowed to enter Britain via Gatwick before travelling on to the Isle of Man.

Stuart Neale, for the prosecution, said Van Rooyen wanted "a cheap deal" and provided tickets and documentation to get the workers to his home. Simon Gomba, the highest-paid worker, was promised 12,000 rand (?900) a month. Gradually, this was reduced to 10,000 rand, or about ?2 an hour. The men's working hours were subsequently extended by 15 hours, to 72 hours a week, making their hourly rate ?1.36. Concerned local people reported the workers' presence in January and police and immigration services raided the property.

Van Rooyen, who quit his management position at Barclays before his court appearance, preached a gospel which decreed that 102,000 people enter Hell every day - 48,000 of whom are "unreached people" who have never heard of Jesus. "The Lord does not want us to live double- standard lives," he tells his church's followers in his latest website message".