An immigration raid on the old Brickhouse/Doghouse bar-restaurant complex last week followed “many weeks of communications with these businesses”, according to a news release issued by the Immigration Department on Tuesday.
During a Friday afternoon immigration check on the business complex, three establishments – now known as the Sail Inn, the Weigh Inn and Game On – were found to have employed seven foreign nationals illegally, officials said.
The seven individuals were taken into custody, interviewed and processed, according to immigration officers.
“Officers found irregular operations during a visit to the facilities last December and instructed the owner\operator to rectify them,” the release stated. “They also advised management on the legal processes required for employees to continue employment under a new business licence.”
The old Doghouse/Brickhouse complex was sold to a new owner, Mario Rankin, who has said he took over the business on 1 November from former owners Michael Bell and Harry Lalli.*
Immigration officers said a proper trade and business licence was needed for the new owner and said they notified the new ownership of all workers who required permits to continue employment.
“They ... advised the new company to cease employment until all permits were properly filed and granted,” the news release stated. Follow up visits by immigration, including the one of Friday, were conducted and investigations continue, officers said.
The three establishments have since re-opened and were seen open for business late Tuesday morning.
In an interview Friday, Mr. Rankin said that he was unable to obtain new permits for some of the workers because the previous owner had not cancelled those permits.
“[The chief immigration officer] is saying that we need cancellation letters for our employees, but it seems she does not know that each employee in the Cayman Islands on a permit has the right to cancel their own permit,” Mr. Rankin said.
Mr. Rankin added that the Immigration Department is in possession of cancellation letters from respective employees and that the chief immigration officer was essentially denying those employees their right to cancel their own permit.
“We have instead had to have them write their own severance letters and then he simply signs a release,” Mr. Rankin said.
Calls to Mr. Lalli from Friday were not returned. Since last Monday, 11 February, immigration has been processing 26 permits for Sail Inn, which Mr. Rankin said he has paid for.
“We have done everything they have asked of us and everything had been paid in full, yet they run in here in the middle of the afternoon and shut down the business in front of guests,” Mr. Rankin said. He said he was planning to re-open the Sail Inn as soon as possible.
Mr. Rankin was arrested in mid-December on suspicion of immigration-related violations. The department has refused to discuss the case. Mr. Rankin said he has not been charged with any crimes, so far as he was aware.
Mr. Rankin said after the December arrest that officers obtained a total of seven warrants to search his apartment, his wife’s home and several businesses within the former Doghouse/Brickhouse complex in Grand Harbour. Mr. Rankin said officers did perform some searches at the Grand Harbour businesses back in mid-December, but that he got the distinct impression the searches of those establishments were a mere pretext.
Compass journalist Stuart Wilson contributed to this story.
*Editor’s note: Representatives of Michael Bell later stated that Mr. Bell is the landlord of the building in which the Brickhouse/Doghouse, now the Sail Inn and Game On, operates within. The previous business operator, Harry Lalli, owned the business previously while Mario Rankin has owned the businesses operating there since 1 November. Mr. Bell’s representatives said his interests in the matter were as the landlord only, not as a business operator.