Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Appeal dismissed in Masala restaurant court case

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Masala restaurant formerly located in Bucklands Beach. Photo Zomato

A co-owner of the Masala Restaurant chain jailed in February for hiding millions of dollars in cash sales and laundering large amounts of it has failed with his appeal against his prison sentence.

Rupinder Singh Chahil – who resided in Howick – was sentenced at the Auckland High Court to three years and two months in prison, plus a $50,000 fine, on nine money laundering charges and 34 tax evasion charges.

A former accountant, Vijay Kumar Gupta, was also sentenced then. He received 10 months’ home detention and was ordered to pay $5000 in reparations.

Chahil says the $8 million settlement of a proceeds of crime civil claim deserved a greater recognition in the calculation of his sentence.

The losses caused by the GST offending were paid, including arrears and use-of-money interest, but received only “modest” acknowledgement in his sentence, Chahil’s lawyer Nicolette Levy QC, said.

Stuff reported the aim of Chahil’s appeal to the Court of Appeal in Wellington was a sentence of two years’ jail that could be converted to home detention, Levy said.

The Court of Appeal dismissed his claim.

Inland Revenue spokesman Tony Morris said in February after Chahil’s sentencing that the evasion wasn’t particularly sophisticated but was carried out on a massive scale.

“Chahil provided 114 individual GST returns to Inland Revenue on behalf of the Masala Related Companies, which together concealed more than $6.5 million of mainly cash sales,” Morris said.

“The tax offending was linked inescapably to the money laundering but the money laundering was far more complex, involving multiple bank accounts here and overseas.

“Chahil and another co-owner, collected cash from the Masala Restaurants, and delivered the money to Gupta to be laundered.

“Gupta controlled the deposit of large amounts of cash into bank accounts, transferred the cash to overseas banks, purchased large amounts of foreign currency, and then brought the money back to New Zealand.”

The tax offending spanned six years, from April 2008 to April 2014 through regular, two-monthly false returns to IR. The money laundering took place over 14 months through a series of transactions from February 15, 2012, to April 2013.

“Hiding their cash sales, and laundering the proceeds of their offending, meant the Masala Restaurants were inevitably able to undercut other restaurants,” Morris said.

“The tax evasion and money laundering were uncovered at a tremendous public cost. It required a substantial effort to detect, uncover and prosecute this case.

“The investigation took longer than it should have because Chahil had false responses prepared to deliberately frustrate the enquiries. IR’s investigation into the money laundering meant contacting tax authorities in Australia and India where he and Gupta tried to hide their criminal proceeds.”

Joti Jain, who was a former co-owner of the companies running the Masala chain, pleaded guilty to 21 charges of tax evasion and was sentenced to nine months home detention in 2018.

Gupta pleaded guilty to nine charges of money laundering along with Chahil who also pleaded guilty to 34 charges of tax evasion in October.

Chahil previously had imposed and served a sentence of Home Detention for charges relating to providing false or misleading information to Immigration New Zealand.

The Masala restaurant chain was also the scene of exploitation and chronic underpayment of migrant workers.

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