1 Sep 2023

Health campaigner calls for liquor licensing overhaul after Mama Hooch sexual assault case

10:38 am on 1 September 2023
The Mama Hooch trial. Danny Jaz, left, and Roberto Jaz appear in the Christchurch District Court charged with sexual violation 07 February 2023 POOL PICTURE SUPPLIED

Danny and Roberto Jaz whose father owned Mama Hooch and Venuti were were found guilty of nearly 70 crimes between 2015 and 2018. Photo: Supplied / POOL

A health campaigner is calling for an overhaul of the liquor licensing laws saying the Christchurch Mama Hooch sexual assault case has exposed significant failings.

Michael Jaz, the father of Mama Hooch predators Danny and Roberto Jaz, owned both the infamous central city bar and nearby restaurant Venuti on Colombo Street, the establishments his sons used to routinely drug and sexually assault patrons.

Danny and Roberto Jaz were last week sentenced to lengthy jail terms after they were found guilty of nearly 70 crimes, including rape, sexual violation and stupefying, between 2015 and 2018.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's has now confirmed liquidation proceedings against Jaz Holdings Limited, whose sole director is Michael Jaz, with a first report due by 7 September.

Both a father, who spoke to RNZ under the condition of anonymity, and a men against violence advocacy group, hit out the length of time it took to see the men convicted.

The father expressed frustration that Mama Hooch was not shut down when the brothers were arrested and charged in late-2018.

"The system let them out on bail, still working at the restaurants where more offending happened after they'd been charged," he said.

He then levelled criticism at the Christchurch City Council and its licensing authority whom he accused of not doing enough to get it shut down.

"The fact that a bar with a really dodgy reputation ... and these charges, and yet they still let that bar operate. It's like, what do you have to do to get a bar closed down?" he said.

The council however has defended its response, claiming it did everything within its legal bounds.

Under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, the District Licensing Committee's (DLC) role is to consider all new liquor licenses and renewals.

Committee members are appointed by council.

The council's head of regulatory compliance, Tracey Weston, said agencies, including police and council licensing inspectors, could not issue or cancel liquor licenses, a function which lies solely with the DLC.

"The agencies instead have an ability to oppose licenses or manager's certificate applications or, in some cases, can apply (to the committee) to cancel them," she said.

But the council refused to comment when RNZ asked if a licensing inspector or agent had applied to cancel the bar's licence after charges were first laid.

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Christchurch City Council has defended its response to dealing with Mama Hooch claiming it did everything within its legal Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Both police and council inspectors opposed Mama Hooch's licence renewal in January 2019 because of the alleged crimes, before an on license renewal hearing was scheduled for a date in September.

Michael Jaz later adjourned his request before the bar was sold and re-branded in early-2020.

Weston said the council followed "all available steps within [its] legislative powers" when asked if they had done enough to protect women who frequented or worked at the bar.

This included seeking assurances from Mama Hooch after Roberto Jaz was charged in October 2018 that "measures would be put in place to ensure the ongoing safety of patrons and staff".

"Both police and the council inspectors were monitoring activity at the premises," Weston said.

The council completed eight inspections between September 2018 and January 2020.

Roberto, the younger of the pair, worked as chef at Venuti but was also listed as a Mama Hooch duty manager.

His bail conditions stipulated he no longer enter the premises following his arrest.

Older brother Danny Jaz who managed the bar, was charged in November 2018.

Health Coalition Aotearoa Board co-chair Boyd Swinburn said the Mama Hooch case exposed a real weakness in the licensing process.

"There are about 12,000 licences given every year and very few of them get rejected, and the bar to get rejection, the evidence required is very high. It's very difficult to get a licence rejected as this case shows," he said.

"The issue with this case was that the criminality hadn't been decided, it was still before the courts, and of course the courts took a long time to get there, and in the meantime the bar carried on with its licence."

Swinburn said Health Coalition Aotearoa was calling for an overhaul of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

The system should make it hard to get a licence and easy to lose one, but that was not currently the case, he said.

"The bar and the level of evidence and things should be lowered and give communities more say and take a more precautionary approach," Swinburn said.

"If that had occurred we wouldn't have seen this level of continuing damage in the face of the delay."

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