Phing Woon Pun ran the Temptation Chinese Buffet in Carr Street, Ipswich and the Lucky Star Takeaway in Hawthorn Drive, Ipswich with his wife Kim Tai Wong, his daughter Siow Yin Punand his son Yung Fatt Pun.They were convicted on 16 March 2011 of conspiring to breach UK immigration laws, and received sentences of 6 years, 30 months, 4 years and 3 years respectively after a nine week trial. Restaurant manager Ai Vee Ong was also jailed for 4 years on similar charges. Confiscation orders totalling £1,010,123 were imposed.
INNOCENT received the following letter concerning the case from the chair of the Suffolk Chinese Family Welfare Association. We hope to bring you more news and information about this case in future, so if you are interested, please visit this site again.
I have followed the Evening Star’s coverage* of the Pun family’s case since it was brought to my attention by a member of the Chinese community here in Suffolk .
Since then, increasing numbers have expressed their views on the matter and its coverage. There is a clear feeling that issue needs to be raised with judicial fairness, proportionality and the stereotypification of the Chinese community as a whole.
Mr Pun’s restaurant and takeaway were raided by UK Border Agency / Suffolk Police (accompanied by a film crew). He, his wife and two adult children were accused of employing illegal migrant workers.
If we consider that for example Baroness Scotland received a civil fine of £5000 for employing an illegal worker (employer can be fined up to £10,000 per employee) and then compare that to the Pun’s family judicial treatment – instead of imposing a large civil fine on them, if indeed, some of the workers, were illegal, Puns were charged with “conspiring to facilitate a breach of the UK’s immigration laws”.
This is a criminal offence , for which, the couple and their two children were given considerable jail sentences. Judge Thompson has also decided to fine them £1 million, confiscating their home, restaurant / takeaway and even their cars. We see a dramatic dislocation between the way this family has been treated in comparison to what we should expect
As far as the “conspiracy ” is concerned, we understand that Mr Pun’s workers were arranged to come to work for him by a very reputable London law firm which made various public announcements and widely advertised this special European Article 49 Posted Worker Scheme, reliant on the European rules, that specify if you are legally entitled to work in one EU country, you are entitled to work in another EU country. .
Indeed, public seminars were held in major cities across the country by this law firm. They were held openly and above the board. This can hardly be described as a conspiracy. Hundreds of Chinese restaurants applied and participated. The main reason for this was to ensure that in engaging legal professionals, that they were operating legally. This is coupled with a genuine skill shortage in the Industry, Contract for those workers posted, were drafted by lawyers. Mr Pun was only one of the hundreds who applied and had reasonable expectation to believe that as this was arranged by the reputable law firm, it must be legal. Workers tax and insurance were handled, again, by professionals, a UK accountancy firm. Your readership ’s speculation that the payments were below minimum wage is therefore also an unlikely situation.
Mr Pun is of Chinese ethnicity. not educated in England and manages basic spoken English. Even for native speakers with a powerful grasp of the language, lawyers and accountants must be used to ensure compliance with legislation. By using them, Pun clearly demonstrated that he thought this is what he was doing. If the scheme on which he relied, has been found to be flawed, The Pun family should be treated as victims, not perpetrators.
The Police/UK Boarder Agency and the CPS had decided that the lawyers and the accountants who had offered the scheme and carried out all the paper work should not be brought to the trial. Mr Pun and his family did not give evidence in the trial either, they were advised at the time of the trial that the evidence against them was not credible and that they should not need to give evidence in their defence on that matter.
As a community, we do not support illegal acts irrespective of ethnicity of any perpetrators. The severity with which, Mr Pun’s family has been treated raises serious questions in the Chinese community about judicial fairness and proportionality. Mr and Mrs Pun are a hardworking couple who my typically work toiling 12 – 15 hours a day for the last 20 or so years, hardly ever taking a holiday that you and I would take for granted. They had built a business and provided a service that was valued by the community (certainly not the “criminal empire ” that you have chosen to sensationalise) and their friendly and obliging nature meant they were liked by the community
The petition signed by around 700 Ipswich residents from all backgrounds in their support is clear evidence of this although it would seem that the value of these opinions has been ignored by Judge Thompson.
It is fair to say that the authority had also raided “white ” premise., Many of us will have seen coverage of a dawn raid, on a farm, where large numbers of illegal workers were arrested and removed. Have we seen any of these farm owners deprived of their freedom for years, having had all of their possessions confiscated and had their families deemed accomplices as a result of such raid?
In relation to charges brought against the Puns in regarding the mortgage application, lender staff took 15 – 20 minutes to offer Mr Pun a mortgage to purchase the house, based on his wage and were unconcerned by the business mortgage offered by another lender and in all likelihood, assessed on that business All repayments had been met dutifully. Neither Banks made any complaints to the authorities.
Was Peter Mandelson sentenced to 4 years imprisonment for failing to declare a existing loan in a mortgage application for an apartment? Was a charge ever brought?
In my local town, Stowmarket, there are now quite a few shop fronts standing empty. Catering businesses that offer ethnic food account for 25% of the business presence on the High Street there (if we don ’t count banks or charity shops).
These businesses are there because they provide a service to the meet the needs of the local community. These businesses, in turn, use the services of local tradesmen, suppliers, solicitors etc. They pay their rent, rates and mortgages and are an integral part of UK economic landscape. These businesses support jobs in our community if not directly, then indirectly.
The labour and skill shortage in the ethnic catering sector is a genuine and growing issue. It is hard to envisage that a British Government would ignore this shortage in such a significant proportion of the High Street if they were “White ” businesses. However, the Chinese community currently has no representation in the House of Commons nor House of Lords..
The normal channel of the democratic dialogue via your local Member of the Parliament are most likely not been taken up by the Chinese business community at large – the language barrier dose not help, but the cultural difference also means they have lack of understanding of how to engage in the democratic dialogue to find consensus and solutions. For Instance, skills shortage may be partly overcome by the local colleges offering catering qualification course that specialize in ethnic cuisines if such dialogue could take place.
Criminalisation of a productive, hardworking section of the business community, that has rarely asked for very much from the British community at large, clearly is not a way forward.
It is reported that Judge Thompson said that such harsh punishment would “provide some justice for the public purse ” and the “excessive” cost of the proceedings. The cost of the proceeding is surely less down to the activity of the Pun family and really due to the “showboating ” nature of case brought against them – a civil fine would have had hardly any costs and still resulted in proportional fines.
Instead they are being made to foot the cost of the state’s heavy handedness towards them. There simply was not the need and for many of us it looks like they are being used as a punch bag to appease public anger over immigration in general.
In his confiscation of all of the family ’s possessions and freezing their bank accounts, we are concerned that Judge Thompson has effectively removed a means by which they may be able to afford to mount an appeal to challenge his decision.
The unwritten contract between the State and its people more or less is based on the understanding that relationship is fundamentally a “benevolent ” and “just” one. Singling out the Chinese community, whose members have rarely taken away local jobs, and then so ostentatiously punishing them in the extreme is clearly unfair and won ’t deal with the real issue.
We recognise that immigration is a major concern right now, and certainly see the anger that has built up from uncontrolled large-scale immigration, however the nucleation point of this emotion is the flow from the EU to the UK .
There is a sense of genuine grievance in the Chinese Communities all over the UK as a result of the severity and disproportionate oppressiveness Pun’s family has been subjected to by the judicial system. It just isn’t cricket.
We would appreciate that you can publish this open letter in your newspaper, so that the view of the Chinese Community can be aired.
Suffolk Chinese Family Welfare Association
28 June 2011