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Chinese restaurant owner due to be sentenced for employing illegal immigrants

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: December 18, 2013

By Fran McElhone

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Martin Lai of the Imperial China Restaurant in Cowick Street

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An Exmouth Chinese restaurant owner and his cousin are due to be sentenced at Exeter Crown Court this month, two years after being found guilty of employing illegal immigrants.

Cousins Martin Lai from Exmouth, and Kevin Lai from Torquay, will appear before a judge at Exeter Crown Court two days before Christmas for a complex sentencing and confiscation hearing.

They were found guilty of employing illegal workers at their Devon takeaways in a series of four raids by immigrations officials, including one filmed by a BBC crew.

All the charges related to raids at the Imperial China in Cowick Street, Exeter; the Oriental City in Station Road, Pinhoe, Exeter; and China Blue in Tor Hill, Torquay.

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They were warned they could face heavy fines and confiscation of assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act after a jury at Exeter Crown Court convicted them of four of the 11 charges in December 2011.

The case follows the most high profile investigation by the Plymouth-based unit of the Border Agency which in itself took six years to bring to court.

The pair have been waiting to be sentenced since December 2011 pending a complicated financial investigation.

Martin Lai, 48, from Cranford Avenue, who runs restaurants in Exmouth and Exeter, is a leading member of the Chinese community in Britain and chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Chinese Association.

He is also one of Britain’s best known powerboat racers whose Ocean Dragon team competes in races all over the world and he appears regularly on satellite sports coverage.

The cousins’ businesses in Exeter and Torquay were found with a total of 11 illegal immigrants during the four raids between 2006 and 2008.

One of those arrested even carried an official card which was marked with the words ‘employment prohibited’ and others had absconded after previously being ordered out of Britain.

Both men denied all 11 charges of assisting unlawful immigration by employing illegals.

They were both found guilty of two offences and cleared of the rest. Each case related to a different worker.

At the 2011 hearing, Martin and Kevin Lai, 40, of Tor Hill Road, did not give evidence but their lawyers argued they had been confused by the chaos in the immigration service which led to some illegals being returned to work rather than deported.

The prosecution said the men were aware of the dangers because of the earlier raids but chose to flout the law.

Judge Phillip Wassall adjourned sentencing to a later date to await the outcome of an application under the Proceeds of Crime Act but said at the time that he was not considering custody.

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