The UK Border Agency reports that owners of the prestigious Rajput Indian restaurant in Harrogate, were found guilty on Friday 26 March, of a conspiracy to traffic their own chefs into the UK and deliberately exploit them for financial gain.
In a case led by our Yorkshire immigration crime team, chef Shahnawaz Ali Khan once described by Asian Express as the ‘Indian Jamie Oliver’, his brother Raza Ali Khan and their mother, Parveen Khan, were all found guilty of trafficking up to nine members of staff, following a three month trial at Leeds Crown Court.
The case began after three of the workers came forward reporting that they had been exploited and asking for help. This led to an investigation, Operation Keepnet, being launched by the joint UK Border Agency immigration crime team, made up of our officers and seconded police detectives.
Their investigations revealed a catalogue of exploitation of workers at the Rajput restaurant dating back to 2004 and saw them execute an operation in November 2008 at the restaurant, where officers uncovered a further three victims as well as arresting the three people convicted today. The immigration crime team worked in close liaison with the complex casework unit, Crown Prosecution Service West Yorkshire to prepare and secure the successful outcome today.
The three convicted today were all found to be complicit in the business’s day-to-day running and therefore involvement with trafficking their workers. Brothers Shahnawaz Ali and Raza Ali Khan served as directors, Shahnawaz looked after the work permits and visas whilst Raza was in charge of pay. Their mother, Parveen was found to be closely involved in the running of the restaurant and assisted with obtaining work permits and documentation for their workers.
Following the operation officers from the UK Border Agency’s immigration crime team uncovered a further three staff that had also been trafficked into the UK for exploitation bringing the total to nine.
Many of the staff were previously working in prestigious restaurants in the Middle East, India and Pakistan, and had accepted offers to come and work legitimately at the Rajput, signing formal work contracts and obtaining work visas. However, on arrival to the UK legally, they promptly had their passports taken from them by one of the defendants and then put them to work at the Rajput for up to 14 hours a day, seven days a week.
The nine staff, all from either Pakistan or India, claimed they were effectively barred from moving around freely, forced to share accommodation with other staff and transported to work by their employers so they could not abscond. In one incident an employee had their visa and photo ripped out of their passport. All received little or no money for their work.
DI Don Newlove, from the UK Border Agency’s Yorkshire immigration crime team that led the case said:
‘This was a very serious and unusual case involving the exploitation of vulnerable workers and is one of the first of its kind involving legal foreign nationals who have then been deliberately trafficked into the UK.
‘The conviction of those behind it today shows that the immigration and police officers in the immigration crime teams are playing a clear and effective role in tackling those involved in this type of criminality.’
Welcoming today’s convictions, the UK Border Agency’s regional director for the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, Jeremy Oppenheim warned:
‘The owners of the Rajput restaurant have been under the spotlight by the UK Border Agency for several years for a range of immigration offences and, in a separate incident, they were the target of a successful illegal working operation in December last year where three illegal workers were uncovered.’
‘This case goes to show that immigration crime does not pay and that those behind it can be involved in all sorts of crime. Let me be clear, immigration crime exploits vulnerable workers, honest businesses and the UK taxpayer and as this case demonstrates, the UK Border Agency will target those involved and bring them to justice.’
The separate operation by our officers to the Rajput Restaurant in Harrogate in December 2009 was unrelated to Operation Keepnet and concerned intelligence around illegal working. The operation saw the employers served with a penalty notice for up to £30,000 for employing three illegal workers. There was no suspicion that these workers had been trafficked.
Of the nine victims who were exploited in this case, three have returned home and six have remained in the UK legally.
Helen Gaunt, senior crown prosecutor in the complex casework unit, Crown Prosecution Service West Yorkshire, who led the preparation of the prosecution case said:
‘This was a difficult and complex case, and one of the first such prosecutions of its kind. Trafficking is more usually prosecuted using sexual offences legislation and the offence is usually committed for purposes of sexual assault. In this case, we were able to make use of the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004.
‘We worked in close co-operation with colleagues at the UK Border Agency in building a robust prosecution case. It was unusual because the workers involved were legal foreign nationals, who had then been deliberately trafficked into the UK by their employers.
‘Behind the conventional façade of a well-known Harrogate restaurant a litany of gross exploitation for the purpose of financial gain was discovered. We hope it is some small comfort to the victims that justice has now been served in this case, and that they can now go on to re-build their lives.’
A sentencing date has yet to be set.
Source: UK Border Agency