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News & Views Retailer fights back against ‘vindictive’ UKBA


Shelim Hussein MBE. Chair, Euro Foods Group Ltd


The UK Border Agency faces a sig- nificant legal bill of up to £60,000, following court action by Asian food retailer Masala Bazaar, owned by Shelim Hussain MBE. Mr Hussain had launched a test case before Cardiff County Court against the UKBA after being fined £15,000 for allegedly employing three illegal workers. The case was originally listed for a hear- ing but, seemingly to avoid criticism and bad publicity, the UKBA withdrew its fine and agreed to pay Mr Hussain’s legal costs.


Increasingly fines are issued against businesses where the UKBA finds ille- gal workers at a business‘s premises, regardless of whether the business itself is culpable. These fines have a big impact on Asian food restaurants, wholesalers, and small takeaways. Mr Hussain said UKBA thought he was a ‘small shopkeeper who would simply pay the fine to avoid going to court.” they didn’t realise he was a man of means who was prepared to spend £60,000 fighting them.


The UKBA alleged Masala Bazaar had failed to comply with statutory obligations by not carrying out rel- evant pre-employment checks and obtain employee’s passports, but this was proved to be untrue. Mr Hussain described the UKBA’s action as ‘highly vindictive and manifestly unreason- able’. He adds, “There was a flagrant disregard to the law, not just in rela- tion to the actual raid but also the manner in which the UKBA continu- ously sought to defend the dubious fine even when it became clear the fine was unjustified and unwarranted.” He claims the UKBA had suppressed material evidence of an employee who was using a forged passport and fake ID to gain employment, which would have cleared Masala Bazaar of any wrongdoing.


Masala Bazaar’s legal team, led by a top immigration Barrister, Ian McDonald QC, described the UKBA’s action as ‘failing to have slightest regard to their own procedures. They uncovered a serious abuse of power by UKBA officials, including the fact that a warrant had not been properly shown before the search, the warrant for the search itself was highly questionable, and most importantly, the UKBA were relying on principles of criminal law to impose a civil fine against the company. The legal team was surprised to find that these practices had not yet faced a full legal challenge, and the team felt that the circumstances of their own case presented a perfect opportunity for a test case to be launched.


Mr Hussain also expressed serious concerns over the treatment of his


employees at the hands of the UKBA investigating officer. This included a refusal of a request to speak to law- yers, interpreters and access to water.


“I had done nothing wrong,” he says.


“It appears the UKBA were going to extraordinary lengths to frame me and my business of wrongdoing and to tarnish my personal reputation and standing within the business commu- nity. It is a question of taking a princi- pled stand against public officials who abuse their powers and act dishonestly and is a victory for small businesses against the arbitrary and unlawful actions of public servants.


Masala Bazaar was fully prepared to expose the UKBA’s oppressive behav- iour in the court room. “These people target small businesses knowing they do not have the resources to question the legality of the fine. Whilst the UKBA is anxious to create a ‘hostile environ- ment’ for illegal workers, the public expect UKBA officials to act within the law and observe the highest standard of conduct and professionalism”, said Mr Hussain.


Dialogue could have presented the situation arising, and the taxpayer having to pay significant legal costs. Group manager, Shahab Ali says, “We would have hoped that the UKBA would have contacted us to go through their concerns and we would have fully co-operated with their investigation. We operate rigorous recruiting pro- cedures and employment practices and any allegation of employing illegal workers is taken very seriously. This has been shown to be the case.”


UKBA finds restaurant has no liability


The Cinnamon Tree in Radley, near Banbury, faced fines of up to £40,000 when it was raided by immigration officials in October last year and it was found that a number of workers were not lawfully in the UK. However owner Kazi Ahmad has been told a notice of no liability has been issued and no penalty is due.


Mr Ahmad claimed paperwork for the men was in order when he took them on. However two of them had stopped going to college, and as a result they were in breach of their student visa. The UK Border Agency has indicated that a total of four men arrested as a result of their investigation will be deported.


Spice Business Magazine


15


January/February 2013


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