Mohammed Atiqul Islam and his wife Nafisa Ahmed were sent to prison after being found guilty of exploitation of temporary workers.
A sweet shop owner who paid his workers less than $8 an hour and lied to cover up his scam was responsible for “economic and social slavery”, the Court of Appeal says.
Auckland man Mohammed Atiqul Islam asked the court to reduce his jail sentence of four years and five months but his appeal was dismissed on Monday.
Islam and his wife Nafisa Ahmed were jailed in May 2019 after being found guilty of exploiting temporary workers.
The Bangladeshi couple, who are New Zealand citizens, owned Royal Indian Sweets and Cafe in Sandringham. It went into liquidation in 2017.
They were later charged with human trafficking, exploitation of temporary workers, and other immigration-related charges.
Both were found not guilty of human trafficking. But Islam was found guilty of 10 exploitation charges, seven other immigration-related offences, and three charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
Ahmed was found guilty of eight exploitation charges.
Islam took his case to the Court of Appeal, arguing District Court judge Brooke Gibson was too heavy-handed when he increased his sentence for perverting the course of justice.
In the Court’s decision, released on Monday, Justice Simon Moore said not only did Islam grossly under-pay five of his workers, he used threats to make sure they did not leave.
“Mr Islam and his business were direct beneficiaries of the deprivation and exploitation of his workers. It is no hyperbole to condemn Mr Islam’s conduct as economic and social slavery.”
The judgment details the horrific conditions the workers were subjected to at the specialist sweet shop.
Two of the chefs were recruited directly from Bangladesh. Islam told Immigration authorities that they would be working 40 hours a week and paid $17 per hour for their work.
Immigration New Zealand approved their visas.
However, in reality both chefs worked long days. During cultural festivals they sometimes worked up to 36 hours in one shift.
Immigration New Zealand calculated their hourly rate at $7.97 and $7.08 respectively.
Neither of the chefs spoke or read English and were completely isolated in New Zealand.
The scam only unravelled when the pair sought help at the mosque they attended.
“Some had borrowed money from relatives and friends to pay for the move to New Zealand. With no effective income they have been unable to repay the loans,” the judgment said.
One of the men had to move his wife and children back to their village because he could no longer afford to keep their home in Dhaka.
Another had sold his father’s farm in the expectation he would be able to buy it back with the promised good money he would earn in New Zealand.
“In their victim impact statements, they described their sense of utter helplessness. In contrast, Mr Islam is highly educated,” Justice Moore said.
“He has both a Bachelor of Commerce and a Postgraduate Diploma in Business. He has held positions with the ANZ, Baycorp, Bank of New Zealand, Watercare and Spark.”
Three other workers were also exploited, one of who was paid nothing.
In total Islam owes the workers more than $260,000.
“None of these arrears have been paid and there seems little prospect they ever will be,” Justice Moore said.
When Islam learned he was being investigated by the immigration authorities, he set about falsifying documents in an attempt to make his business dealings seem legitimate, the judgment said.
Even after being found guilty, Islam protested that he had done nothing wrong.
“[It] reveals a startling lack of remorse and insight into the effect his offending has had on others.”
The Court of Appeal found Islam’s sentence was justified and dismissed his appeal.
Islam’s wife, Nafisa Ahmed, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison.
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