Mustafa Centre being investigated by MOM

An MOM spokesman said Mohamed Mustafa and Samsuddin Co is being investigated following several complaints against it recently. PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is investigating retail giant Mustafa Centre for alleged employment offences.

In a statement to The New Paper on Sunday (Aug 5), an MOM spokesman said the company is being investigated following several complaints against it recently.

"MOM has received complaints that Mohamed Mustafa and Samsuddin Co may have infringed the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. Investigations are ongoing," said the spokesman without elaborating on complaints.

However, The New Paper understands the probe on the company, which is registered as Mohamed Mustafa and Samsuddin, is not limited to specific violations but covers offences under the entire Act.

Offences under the Act include work pass violations and receiving of kickbacks.

In a report by The Online Citizen (TOC) on Friday, a former employee alleged that Mustafa Centre's human resource (HR) department had been collecting "cashbacks" from employees.

The man, identified as Mr Abdul Haq Siddique, a senior sales executive in the store's jewellery department, was quoted as saying that after his monthly salary was deposited into his bank account, he had to go to HR to give back $600 to $1,000.

He said the amount to be returned depended on how much he earned in overtime that month.

Mr Abdul Haq, who did not disclose his basic salary, told TOC: "Every month, when I got my salary in my bank account, (the HR manager) and sometimes his assistant would ask me to bring the 'cashback' amount to him."

He said the practice stopped in October last year after the Mustafa families became embroiled in a legal dispute.

Mr Abdul Haq claimed that he was not the only worker who had to give back part of his salary and urged others like him to speak up.

"No one knows where the money goes to," he added.

Quoting Mr Abdul Haq and other ex-employees, TOC also reported that Mustafa had stopped renewing S-passes in May this year, affecting about 100 foreign employees.

MOM has issued Special Passes to affected workers so that they can remain here to assist in investigations, TOC said.

The MOM spokesman declined to comment on Mr Abdul Haq's allegations, citing the ongoing investigations.

Those convicted of kickback offences can be fined up to $30,000 and/or jailed for up to two years each charge.

Mustafa Centre is a 24-hour retail hub in Little India, selling 300,000 products across a retail space of 400,000 sq ft.

The company has also expanded to other businesses in the area, including a travel agency, hotel and restaurant.

Starting as a 900 sq ft shop in Serangoon Road in 1973, it grew to a 40,000 sq ft space in Serangoon Plaza in 1985.

Mr Mustaq Ahmad, the founder of the iconic centre and the company's managing director, was reportedly ranked 37th in Forbes magazine's list of the 40 richest people in Singapore in 2011, with a reported worth of US$240 million (S$328 million).

He was recently in the news over his stepfamily's high-stakes lawsuit against him and five others.

As directors of the company, Mr Mustaq, his wife, two children and brother-in-law were named as defendants in the suit filed by his step-siblings and their mother for alleged oppressive conduct under the Companies Act.

The defendants failed to strike out the lawsuit in the High Court last month, and the case will proceed to trial unless the assistant registrar's decision is reversed on appeal.

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