By Stuart Minting & Raheema Khan

The director of a popular Bengali restaurant has had his licence revoked after “paying” diners’ leftover food to illegal workers.

Just weeks before Abdul Mannan Shabul Ali hoped to reopen Akbar Dynasty, off the A66 at Sadberge, Darlington, the borough council’s licensing committee heard during raids desperate, fleeing illegal workers strip off their kitchen attire, hide in toilets and pose as customers during an immigration raid.

Accepting a Home Office recommendation to strip the restaurateur of his licences at the premises, it is believed to be the first time the council has used relatively new powers to revoke a licence over illegal workers.

The meeting heard while Mr Ali had showed no evidence that he had made any checks on the illegal workers, employing them was viewed by the Government as a serious crime because it led to the exploitation of vulnerable people, undermined legitimate businesses and lowered other people’s wages.

A Home Office immigration enforcement officer told members: “Continuing to employ people without making the legal required checks and not making improvements to prevent such allegations goes to demonstrate that the premises licence holder is not robust and does not take their responsibility towards the licensing objectives seriously.”

He said the ability to work illegally, as Mr Ali had allowed to happen at the 50-cover restaurant rated by TripAdvisor as 15th best of Darlington’s 190 eateries, is a key driver of illegal migration.

The officer added: “It encourages people to take risks in trying to enter the UK illegally by putting their lives in the hands of unscrupulous people smugglers and leaves them vulnerable to exploitative employers.”

Officers told the hearing Akbar Dynasty, which was launched in 2009 on the former Little Chef premises, had been repeatedly raided by immigration officers. In 2019 officers said they spotted men leave the kitchen as they entered the restaurant.

Later, a man was found hiding in toilets and another was discovered sitting in the restaurant area, pretending to be a customer, with red-stained hands and curry sauce on his clothes.

For that and another similar incident the following year Mr Ali was fined £35,000, which he had yet to pay.

Mr Ali, who represented himself and produced no witnesses, claimed he was completely unaware of the circumstances surrounding the 2019 incident, despite having had responsibility for the restaurant.

He added he had only recently taken over the restaurant’s running in 2020 when it was raided. He claimed someone had turned up for an interview on the day that officers raided the restaurant.

Mr Ali told the committee: “He didn’t tell me at the time that he didn’t have his work permit. He wasn’t an immigrant, he had the legality to stay in this country. He was just waiting for his work permit permission, which was granted just two months later.”

However, immigration officers then told the committee the worker in question had been “wearing a waiter’s costume and attending a table when officers entered the premises”.

When pressed over what he had done to check the worker’s suitability for employment, Mr Ali then claimed the illegal worker had showed an immigration identity card. However, the immigration officers dismissed this, saying the card clearly stated the holder had no right to work.

As Mr Ali, of Keighley, West Yorkshire, was told his licence had been revoked as he had failed to demonstrate he would make any changes, the restaurateur made no response.

After the meeting councillors said the ruling would send shockwaves around the region. The committee’s chairman, Councillor Brian Jones said: “I think we have done the right thing in highlighting what has been going on. I would certainly hope it’s a warning shot because clearly no longer are they just taking jobs from people in this country, they are taking jobs from legal immigrants that are entitled to be here and look for work. I understand the restaurant has been very popular. I’m sorry for the people who would be going there for a nice meal.”

On Friday a statement went up on the restaurant Facebook page, stating that the allegations against Mr Ali are ‘false and misleading’, claiming that an appeal has been made against the decision against Mr Ali. The statement read: ”

To all our client’s at the Akbar Dynasty
Firstly we would like to apologise sincerely for the recent event’s which has taken place. I can assure you that the allegations are false and misleading. We are working as fast as we can to rectify the issues and resolve this matter.
We have appealed against the decision taken against Shab and will be operating as normal until the court hearing.
I don’t work at the restaurant, (Moj) but have worked there on various occasions in the past as this has been our family business for the last 16 years or so. Myself I have never witnessed anything as described on the article and I can honestly vouch that my brothers have been good payers to the people who run his business.
Yes it’s wrong to employ immigrants, but on the flip side, he provided the money so that these individuals could have a roof and shelter over their heads.. So that they could feed their families in this current situation we are living in…
I suppose everyone’s entitled to an opinion and can make their own choices in life.
If anyone would still like to visit us or have a takeaway, then we are open from Wednesdays to Sundays 6-10pm as normal..
Thank you for your support in these difficult times… And please rest assured that everything will be put right ASAP.
From everyone at Akbar Dynasty, thank you for everything.. We are still here and fighting strong!!!”