Pair guilty of employing illegal workers on phone accessory stalls
Two men who employed illegal workers on their mobile phone accessory stalls have been given suspended sentences.
Shakir Ullah, 35, is a director of Digital Circle Ltd, and Irfan Ali, 32, runs a company called Simply Peach.
In the first such case in Northern Ireland, they both pleaded guilty to five charges of facilitating unlawful entry to the UK.
The charges stemmed from Home Office raids on their stalls in 19 shopping centres in Northern Ireland.
Eleven illegal workers were discovered during the raids almost two years ago.
They were subsequently removed to the countries they had come from; in this case, Pakistan or India, while a prosecution was begun against their employers.
Both men, who are originally from Pakistan, run a number of businesses based in Manchester.
Carolyne Lindsay, of Immigration Enforcement's crime team, said: "This case reinforces the message about our commitment to tackling those responsible for bringing illegal immigrants to the UK.
"Not only did Ullah and Ali knowingly try to flout immigration laws, they also preyed on vulnerable people desperate to reach the UK."
That was a message echoed by the prosecution after the two men pleaded guilty.
A defence lawyer, however, said the pair did not accept that they had exploited any of the workers.
He said they had all applied for the jobs and been paid fairly, and there was no suggestion of people trafficking.
The judge accepted that this was the case and both men were spared jail, with suspended sentences of 18 months for Ali and three years for Ullah.
Assets have also been seized from the men's companies under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
This includes some £140,000 which is currently frozen.
A separate team of Home Office financial investigators will pursue this money and other assets through civil courts.