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Auckland sweet shop owners accused of running 'sweat shop' as human traffic trial begins

The former owners of a specialist sweet shop have been accused of instead running a “sweat shop” as they appeared in Auckland’s District Court on multiple charges today.

Mohammed Atiquel Islam faces 25 charges and his wife Nafisa Ahmed 14 in relation to the Sandringham sweet shop and cafe they owned and ran from 2014 to 2016. The shop produced and sold Bangledeshi sweets and goods.

The charges include human trafficking, migrant exploitation, breaching the Holidays Act and Minimum Wage Act and attempting to pervert the course of justice. 

Prosecutor Jacob Parry told the court in his opening statement that the pair received permission from Immigration New Zealand to recruit specialist sweet chefs from Bangladesh for their store.

They were told they must pay the chefs above minimum wage - $17 an hour.

Two chefs were recruited in Bangladesh, Mohammed Sikander and Muzammed Sarder, and Islam and Ahmed arranged working visas for them.

“They were lied to and left their families to come to come to New Zealand only to find their trust betrayed and a raw deal left for them,” Mr Parry told the jury.

“They were lied to and cheated and exploited.”

Instead of working eight hours a day, six days a week as promised, the Crown alleges the pair worked up to 21 hours a day and had no days off. 

Eventually they sought help at a mosque, and complaints were laid with Immigration New Zealand and police.

Mr Parry alleged Islam then falsified documents and misled immigration officials.

But defence lawyer Ron Mansfield disputed the facts.

“It was just that - a sweet shop, not a sweat shop,” he told the jury.

He said Islam was pursuing a dream - a dream that ended in financial ruin after just two years.

He alleged the two chefs were “genuinely involved in a business that failed”.

Ahmed’s lawyer, Harrison Smith, said his client had little to do with the day-to-day running of the business.

About 28 witnesses are due to appear, including immigration officials, Mr Sikander and Mr Sarder, and other former employees of the sweet shop.

The trial before Judge Gibson is set to last three weeks. 

Trafficking in persons is punishable under the Crimes Act with imprisonment for up to 20 years, a fine of $500,000 or both.

The maximum penalty on the exploitation, false and misleading information and aiding and abetting charges is seven years’ imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding $100,000.The maximum penalty for attempting to pervert the course of justice is seven years’ imprisonment.

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