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Masala-linked companies forfeit $8m in North Island property

By Sam Hurley

Eight million dollars in property has been forfeited by those involved in an Auckland restaurant chain, investigated for "widespread and systemic tax evasion and immigration-related offending".

In a High Court decision released this afternoon, Justice Rebecca Edwards approved a February 9, 2017, settlement between the Masala group and the Crown for the forfeiture of $8 million, which will be met by the sale of restrained frozen property.

The properties were restrained in New Zealand's biggest ever asset seizure ($34 million), which also included safe deposit boxes.

In 2012, Inland Revenue, Immigration New Zealand and the Department of Labour began investigating companies and individuals involved with the chain of Indian restaurants.

The investigations found widespread and systemic tax evasion and immigration-related offending by those involved with Masala, a judge said this week.

Bosses at Masala were found guilty of underpaying and exploiting immigrant workers, who were paid as little as $3 an hour with the hope of securing a New Zealand visa and residency.

Bosses at Masala were found guilty of underpaying and exploiting immigrant workers, who were paid as little as $3 an hour. Photo / Dean Purcell
Bosses at Masala were found guilty of underpaying and exploiting immigrant workers, who were paid as little as $3 an hour. Photo / Dean Purcell

In a judgment dated December 3, 2015, Justice Edwards granted the Commissioner of Police's application to restrain 34 residential properties in Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty linked to Masala.

Justice Edwards' decision today sees the forfeiture of those properties, owned by several businesses and individuals, including Supinder Singh and Joti Jain.

Jain, who was a director and shareholder of Goldlink Enterprises Limited, and also the employer of workers at the Masala chain was sentenced in October, 2015 to 11 months' home detention, 220 hours' community work and ordered to pay almost $58,000 reparation.

She admitted charges relating to the supply of false or misleading information and aiding the breach of visa conditions.

Jain is also fighting attempts by Immigration New Zealand to deport her.

The property holding companies include; Investments Limited, JKK Holdings Limited, JKK Trustees Limited, Bluemoon Group Limited, AKL Sunrise Company Limited, DC Empires Limited, CHK Investments Limited, SRKK Group of Trustees Limited.

Thirty three of the properties are owned by the companies, while the other was registered in the name of the wife of one of three key individuals with controlling positions in the Masala group.

The properties were used as premises for Masala restaurants or to accommodate staff of the Masala-related companies.

In July last year, 10 residential properties linked to Masala were pulled from mortgagee sale.

The portfolio included two large homes in the exclusive Auckland suburb of Remuera, and collectively the homes were valued at $14 million.

Also in July last year, Jain and Rajwinder Grewal were found in contempt of court and fined after they failed to deliver documents to liquidators.

In approving the settlement, Justice Edwards agreed with the grounds of restraint for the properties and found the companies benefited from the significant criminal activity of Masala.

She said the settlement sum of $8 million represents "almost all of the unlawful benefit
said to have been derived from the tax-evasion offending".

"The settlement sum is expected to be met in full through the sale of restrained properties ... It also reduces the ability of those associated with the criminal activity to
continue with that criminal enterprise."

Justice Edwards said the settlement "eliminates the litigation risk faced by both parties" and provides finality on the forfeiture of assets.

"Achieving certainty on those issues without the need for a trial is in the public
interest in my view," she said.

"There will also be a very considerable saving of time, resource and cost ... In my view, settlements in cases of this size and complexity should generally be encouraged by the Court."

The restrained properties have undergone several changes in registered ownership since they were first acquired by individuals or companies alleged to have been involved with Masala-related companies, court documents show.

- NZ Herald

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