A restaurant boss who exploited migrant workers has now been jailed for tax evasion and money laundering, while an accountant will also serve a period of home detention.

Both men, Rupinder Singh Chahil and Vijay Kumar Gupta, appeared for sentencing in the High Court at Auckland today before Justice Ian Gault.

Chahil, who started the Masala Indian restaurant chain and has been in the hospitality industry since 2000, pleaded guilty to 34 charges of tax evasion and nine charges of money laundering on the second day of his trial last October.

Rupinder Singh Chahil was sentenced today in the High Court at Auckland, he is pictured leaving the Auckland District Court after appearing on exploitation charges. Photo / NZ Herald
Rupinder Singh Chahil was sentenced today in the High Court at Auckland, he is pictured leaving the Auckland District Court after appearing on exploitation charges. Photo / NZ Herald

When describing the offending, Justice Gault said at least 55 reminder letters were sent by the Inland Revenue Department to the Masala companies, and the total tax shortfall was $702,667.

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"As the Crown said, the money laundering was to essentially cover up the tax evasion," he said.

The judge again jailed Chahil, who has previously served time behind bars for kidnapping and violence offences against ex workers.

The man in his late 40s was sent to prison today for a total of three years and two months and fined $50,000.

Chahil's lawyer, Tony Bamford, had argued: "This man does not need to serve a prison sentence, he is a contributor to the community ... He contributes a number of ways to the Indian-Sikh community."

He asked Justice Gault to impose a sentence of home detention coupled with a fine.

Gupta, an accountant, pleaded guilty to nine charges for laundering $524,184 between February 2012 and April 2013.

Representing the 65-year-old Gupta, John Billington, QC, said his client had disgraced himself and his family but showed considerable remorse and insight into his offending.

Justice Gault said Gupta's "fall from grace is punishment enough" but sentenced him to 10 months' home detention and ordered him to pay $5000 in reparation.

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The court heard most of the loss has now been recouped from a High Court civil settlement after some $8m in property was forfeited in 2017 by those involved in the Auckland restaurant chain.

The properties were restrained as part of a $34m asset seizure, which also included safe deposit boxes.

Bosses at Masala were found to be underpaying and exploiting immigrant workers. Photo / Dean Purcell
Bosses at Masala were found to be underpaying and exploiting immigrant workers. Photo / Dean Purcell

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

The investigations found widespread and systemic tax evasion and immigration-related offending by those involved with Masala.

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.

READ MORE:
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The Herald can now also report Joti Jain earlier pleaded guilty to 21 charges of tax evasion.

Jain became the general manager and a named director of four of the 17 companies in the Masala group.

Her offending involved systematic under-reporting of cash sales at the Masala restaurants by filing false or misleading GST returns over a period of six years from April 2008 to March 2014, according to court documents.

The offending also involved failing to provide income tax returns from March 2010 to March 2014.

Joti Jain, pictured during her sentencing in the Auckland District Court over immigration and exploitation offences in 2015. Photo / Dean Purcell
Joti Jain, pictured during her sentencing in the Auckland District Court over immigration and exploitation offences in 2015. Photo / Dean Purcell

The returns under-reported some $6.5 million in sales, with a total of $800,555 of GST evaded. The offending also involved failing to provide income tax returns for Jain's companies between March 2010 and March 2014.

The summary of facts, however, acknowledged Jain's involvement was carried out on Chahil's instructions. The pair were in a personal relationship at the time of the offending.

She was sentenced in May 2018 to 19 months' imprisonment by Justice Simon Moore because she didn't have a suitable home detention address, however, the sentence was cancelled later that month and a nine-month home detention term imposed.

Jain's challenge of her sentence in the Court of Appeal was dismissed in October 2018.

She argued at her appeal that she was merely a "proxy" director and shareholder in the companies and Chahil was the true owner and shadow director of all the other Masala companies.

In 2015, Jain was also sentenced to 11 months' home detention, 220 hours' community work and ordered to pay almost $58,000 reparation for immigration and exploitation charges.

Rajwinder Singh Grewal, who managed the Bucklands Beach Masala, was also sentenced to four and a half month's home detention and ordered to pay almost $5000 reparation for similar offending.

Rajwinder Singh Grewal leaves out the back door of the Auckland District Court in 2015. Photo / NZ Herald
Rajwinder Singh Grewal leaves out the back door of the Auckland District Court in 2015. Photo / NZ Herald

The following year, Chahil was sentenced to six months' home detention and ordered to pay $2500 in reparation for immigration and exploitation offences.

But the court proceedings continued, and in 2016, Jain and Grewal were also found in contempt of court and fined after they failed to deliver documents to liquidators.

After Jain served her 2015 sentence she was served with a deportation notice and she returned to India in early 2017, her Court of Appeal judgment reads.

However, in May 2017 Jain was granted a limited visa to return to New Zealand. The visa stated it was granted "for the express purpose of facing charges brought by the Inland Revenue Department [IRD]".