"Food, whatever is left at the end of the night."
A popular Indian restaurant has had its licence to operate revoked after it was found that illegal workers were “paid” with diners’ leftover food.
Staff at Akbar Dynasty, in Sadberge, Darlington, hid in toilets and posed as customers during immigration raids.
Darlington Council’s licensing committee heard that the restaurant had been repeatedly raided by immigration officers.
During a raid in 2019, a worker was found hiding in the toilets and another, whose hands and clothes were stained red from curry sauce, was sitting at a table posing as a customer.
Restaurant owner Abdul Mannan Shabul Ali was fined £35,000 for employing illegal workers after showing no evidence that he made any checks on the eligibility of workers.
He is yet to pay the fine.
Another raid in February 2020 saw officers interviewing workers.
When asked how he was being paid, one worker replied:
“Food, whatever is left at the end of the night.”
A Home Office immigration enforcement officer said the ability to work illegally, as Mr Ali had allowed to happen, is a key driver of illegal migration.
He said: “Continuing to employ people without making the legal required checks and not making improvements to prevent such allegations goes to demonstrate that the premises licence holder is not robust and does not take their responsibility towards the licensing objectives seriously.
“It encourages people to take risks in trying to enter the UK illegally by putting their lives in the hands of unscrupulous people smugglers and leaves them vulnerable to exploitative employers.”
Mr Ali claimed he was unaware of the 2019 raid, saying he took over the restaurant in 2020.
He said a person had turned up for an interview on the day that officers raided the restaurant.
Mr Ali told the committee: “He didn’t tell me at the time that he didn’t have his work permit.
“He wasn’t an immigrant, he had the legality to stay in this country.”
“He was just waiting for his work permit permission, which was granted just two months later.”
But immigration officers said the person in question had been “wearing a waiter’s costume and attending a table when officers entered the premises”.
When asked what he had done to check the person’s eligibility for employment, Mr Ali claimed the illegal worker had shown an immigration identity card.
Mr Ali’s claims were dismissed by immigration officers. They said that the card clearly stated that the holder had no right to work.
Gazette Live reported that it was concluded that the restaurant’s licence would be revoked.
Councillors said the ruling would be a “warning shot” to other restaurants in the region.
The committee’s chairman, councillor Brian Jones said:
“I think we have done the right thing in highlighting what has been going on.
“I would certainly hope it’s a warning shot because clearly no longer are they just taking jobs from people in this country, they are taking jobs from legal immigrants that are entitled to be here and look for work.
“I understand the restaurant has been very popular. I’m sorry for the people who would be going there for a nice meal.”