Restaurant owner who enslaved a migrant worker under the threat of deportation has been spared jail.
Farok Shaik threatened the woman, told her to think of her visa and said his friends were police officers when she asked repeatedly about her promised wages.
She and her husband worked for nothing at Shaik’s regional restaurants, living in the storeroom above one of the shops, between August 2012 and October 2013.
The couple from India didn’t think they could leave because Shaik was meant to be sponsoring the woman’s permanent residency.
He never lodged the paperwork.
Shaik was handed an 18-month prison term in the County Court of Victoria on Monday.
But the 47-year-old doesn’t have to serve it after entering into a court-enforced undertaking to be of good behaviour for three years.
‘You exploited her’
He earlier pleaded guilty to causing a person to remain in forced labour between March and October 2013, when federal forced labour provisions were enacted.
Judge Michael Cahill said Shaik’s exploitation was deliberate and well thought out, but made concessions for his guilty plea and the delay in his court case.
“She was a migrant worker. You abused the power you had over her and exploited her on threat of deportation for your own financial gain,” the judge said.
“You told her no one would catch you out because you are an Australian citizen.”
Shaik had initially agreed to pay the woman $42,500 a year to serve food and drinks at his Yarrawonga Indian Tandoori Restaurant.
Her husband was employed as a cook and also promised wages, but wasn’t paid them either.
The woman was threatened using an ambiguous Punjabi term, which could have been a reference to hitting or killing her, when she asked repeatedly for money.
She had to take on a second job elsewhere after falling behind on bills despite working for three of Shaik’s restaurants, including at Beechworth and Bendigo.
She eventually quit only to be told her visa was denied because her employer hadn’t lodged the paperwork.
‘Hopeless and useless’
The woman told the court she had lived a good and happy life before meeting Shaik, who left her feeling hopeless and useless.
Shaik was previously fined more than $50,000 in the Federal Circuit Court for exploiting the couple and has only paid half that amount so far.
His friends told the County Court he’d been disowned by many in his community, could no longer work in the restaurant business and was “a decent person at the core” who had provided hundreds of meals for firefighters during the summer bushfires.
Prosecutors argued the man was simply sorry for the predicament he’d found himself in, not what he did.