Guilty pleas over illegal workers

An immigration trial that was expected to last six weeks has ended on its third day after the four accused changed their pleas to guilty.

Michael Porter, 53, Miles Elliott, 45, Surjit “Uncle” Singh, 62, and his son Dharminder “Bubbly” Singh, 42, pleaded guilty yesterday in Hastings District Court to a charge of conspiring to aid and abet foreign nationals to remain in the country illegally between 2004 and 2006.

Although they pleaded guilty, the men are disputing some allegations and a disputed facts hearing may be held next week.

They were all granted continued bail provided they relinquished their passports.

Their company, Contract Labour Services, employed more than 500 workers in vineyards and orchards throughout the country.

The Crown claims the illegal workers came from Asia and included overstayers and ship jumpers, and that the four accused knowingly used separate methods of paying legal and illegal workers, with illegal workers paid in cash.

It also claims the company paid fake invoices to sub-contractors for work carried out by illegal workers.

Bubbly Singh acknowledged yesterday that he knew of illegal workers working for sub-contractors, but this fell short of the “full gambit” of Crown allegations, lawyer Tony Snell said.

Porter accepted he knew that “unlawful labour was being engaged on CLS work through sub-contractors”.

Elliott also acknowledged he was aware that some CLS contractors were employing people who were not legally entitled to work in New Zealand.

Elliott’s lawyer, Bill Calver, said the company had tried to satisfy client demands for labour.

Crown prosecutor Clayton Walker said a summary of facts would be completed by Friday. If a disputed facts hearing was required, it was likely to start next week.

The guilty pleas came a day after evidence from a witness who said the Singhs had acknowledged the use of illegal workers and that they had claimed Porter and Elliott were aware of it.

The witness, David Sutherland, financial controller of Allied Work Force, which became a majority shareholder of CLS shortly before the company was raided by the Immigration Service in December 2006, said Bubbly Singh became “uncontrollable” with rage when Porter and Elliott denied knowledge of illegal workers.

The guilty pleas meant evidence by Allied Work Force managing director Simon Hull was not heard yesterday as planned.

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