17 Nov 2016

Bottle shop boss under-paid workers, defrauded HNZ

11:51 am on 17 November 2016

The boss of two busy inner-city Auckland liquor shops and a dairy ripped off his workers while also living in a Ponsonby state house that he wasn't entitled to.

Yousef Bader was sentenced yesterday at Auckland District Court to 15 months jail after a jury earlier found him guilty of dishonesty, using documents when applying to Housing New Zealand for rent subsidies.

Judge Rob Ronayne said Bader moved into a state house in Ponsonby in 2008 and three years later applied for rent reductions. He backed up a further application by using false documents.

The application was successful, meaning that despite the weekly market rent for the house being $405, rising to $553, Bader only paid $83 a week in rent.

Figures from Housing New Zealand showed that over the period of the offending, more than 6000 people were waiting for a home.

At the same time he owned and managed two inner-city liquor shops - Symonds Liquor and Sky Liquor - as well as the Civic Convenience dairy.

Bader told the jury the businesses were owned and operated by his son and that he only received small amounts of money.

Judge Ronayne: "You lied to the jury about the true situation. Furthermore, there was clear evidence which I accept that you handled amounts of cash from time to time."

Bader hired staff, managed them, trained them and even had a liquor licence certificate - but he also underpaid them. Ultimately, that was his downfall.

"As a result of their complaints, your deception and the IRR forms and related documents came to light because their employment ill-treatment by you was publicised."

An investigation by Housing New Zealand found Bader had benefited by $37,158.

Judge Ronayne said Bader also deceived the IRD and took advantage of his workers who he employed for long hours, despite them being on student visas.

"You deliberately ran your employment practices in such an unethical and manipulative way that you had workers too scared to complain. This was, in my view, part of your overall approach of running these businesses off the grid to avoid the authorities."

The Employment Relations Authority found that when the workers complained about their pay, Bader threatened to report them to police and immigration.

Bader's son's name was on the company documentation and the Authority ordered him to pay more than $200,000 in fines and wage repayments.

Judge Ronayne said although he was sentencing Bader for his offending against Housing New Zealand, it would be wrong to ignore the deceit and treatment of his workers and the deception of other authorities.

He found Bader had no remorse and continued to deny his offending.

"You have abused trust placed in citizens to be honest and deliberately and carefully taken advantage of a system with inherent vulnerablity. Money taken by you is money unavailable to help other honest citizens in need."

Bader's lawyer Susan Gray had argued for a community-based sentence, citing her client's mental health issues.

But Judge Ronayne said the 15-month prison sentence was required to denounce the offending and deter others from ripping off a system that relied on honesty.

Ms Gray said Bader would appeal the sentence.