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Big promises, broken dreams

Nurses, nannies, labourers willing to pay big bucks sought out his services, desperate to get to Canada
August 31, 2008 - The Toronto Star
Dale Brazao

The Saturday Star detailed the growing problem of human trafficking of foreign workers to Canada. In one case, dubbed the Elmvale 11, a group of skilled Filipino workers came to Canada last summer on promises of good jobs, but ended up forced to work as modern-day slaves. The Star found lax government rules and unscrupulous labour recruiters at the heart of the problem.

Canada has been very, very good to Imtazur Nasser Rahman.

Fresh from a second bankruptcy – leaving his creditors on the hook for $114,000 – he zips around the GTA doing business in a $125,000 Porsche Cayenne Turbo.

He previously drove a Lexus 330 SUV, also leased after declaring bankruptcy.

A velvet-tongued labour recruiter who purchased a phony law degree from a diploma mill on the Internet, Rahman, a.k.a. "Bob" or "Bobby" to his clients, dabbled for a time importing sugar.

But importing people could be much more profitable. Rahman played a role in the Elmvale 11 case, in which 11 Filipino workers were brought to Canada as skilled workers.

In an interview, Rahman, 44, downplayed his role, saying he helped the workers get jobs only because "these people needed help."

"I did it from the goodness of my heart so they could make some money," Rahman said in an interview at a Toronto restaurant.

He said thousands of people around the world want to work in Canada, and his work over the years has always focused on helping these workers improve their lives by getting good jobs.

Rahman's website, Human Link International Inc., boasted of his extensive business acumen, describing him as a visionary who "realized there was a sudden upsurge in the economy and therefore huge demand for manpower." Soon after the Star began investigating, the website was taken down.

Rahman's client list is a long one.

Nurses and nannies from the Philippines, crane operators from Dubai, labourers from India and China – all desperate to come to Canada – sought out his services. All were willing to pay big bucks.

Rahman recently closed down his office at Yonge St. and Davisville Ave. His abandoned business records show the menu of prices; Rahman demanded as much as $18,000 for obtaining a work permit and $30,000 for Canadian permanent residency.

A flyer left behind offered a package deal that included Canadian citizenship and a passport, for $70,000.

As far as the Star could tell, Canadian police and government officials have taken no action against Rahman.

In August 2006 (the year before the Elmvale 11 came to Canada), documents obtained by the Star show Rahman signed a deal with Zhuang-An Economic Development Co. in China to bring 18 labourers to Canada, charging each one $18,000.

The contract guaranteed clients permanent residence visas within a year or their money back. His fees: a $3,000 retainer, $10,000 when the travel visa was issued, and $5,000 soon after the applicant's arrival in Canada. Selling Canadian documents is against the law, said a spokesperson for Human Resources and Social Development Canada.

Rahman took a deposit of $57,000, assuring the labourers quick entry into Canada and vowing he'd visit China to smooth their immigration.

Then he disappeared.

That prompted the manager of the Chinese company to come to Canada looking for him, according to documents obtained by the Star. The workers, many of whom quit their jobs in preparation for immigration to Canada, are still in China – and very angry.

"He owes a lot of people money," said Inayat Kassam, an immigration consultant who shared work and space with Rahman in an office building on Consumers Rd.

Kassam said he is now trying to help those Chinese workers.

"Talk to (Rahman) for an hour and you get 20 different stories," said Kassam, recalling claims that Rahman's father was a diplomat and best friends with the prime minister of Bangladesh.

Others say he boasted his grandfather was Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh's first president.

A spokesperson for the Bangladesh High Commission in Ottawa called those claims "highly dubious and unlikely" given that Mujibur Rahman and most of his family were assassinated in 1975.

During the past three years, Rahman, who lives in an upscale townhouse in Richmond Hill, has travelled to the Philippines, China and India to recruit workers.

One of those trips resulted in a Filipino judge issuing an arrest warrant in April 2006 for Imtazur Rahman "a.k.a. Bob/Bobby" and his associate, Nelma Carrascal, on charges of "illegal recruitment" and fraud.

In an interview in Edmonton, where she has moved her business to take advantage of the job boom, Carrascal said the charges arose after Rahman took a woman's $3,000 deposit, and promised he'd have her working as a caregiver in Canada within three months.

The woman is still in the Philippines.

"Bob took the money and I took the hit," said Carrascal, also known as Nelma de Celis, and more recently Nelma Garcia. "Then I found out he went behind my back and got another $1,500 from her."

Despite his troubles, Rahman is involved in a tidy real estate portfolio, including a townhouse and two condos, and he is a fixture at a restaurant in Toronto's Little India. Those properties are kept in business partner Babylin Pamani's name.

Reached at her condo in Richmond Hill, Pamani, herself a careworker, refused to be interviewed.

Last December, while still bankrupt, Rahman and Pamani offered $280,000 for a Timothy's World Coffee franchise in Richmond Hill.

The offer was rejected by head office, said the current owner of the coffee shop, at Major Mackenzie Dr. and Bayview Ave.

During the coffee shop owner's meetings with Rahman he did not tell her he was bankrupt (which is required by federal law). But he impressed the owner, driving up each time in a beige Lexus SUV.

Rahman declared bankruptcy the first time in January 1994 owing creditors more than $40,000. He was discharged a year later.

In March 2003, he filed again for bankruptcy, this time with debts of $113,924 owing to nine creditors, including Revenue Canada and the Ministry of Social Services.

Two car dealerships registered a total of $82,000 in claims. Downtown Infiniti obtained a $30,000 provincial court judgment against Rahman after successfully claiming he sold one of its cars and kept the money for himself.

Bankruptcy trustee Rea Godbold opposed Rahman's discharge from his second bankruptcy for five years because he failed to provide the required financial records. The records were never provided, but Rahman was eventually discharged.

When Rahman introduced himself to the Elmvale 11 he called himself a lawyer.

His now defunct website boasts of an "arts degree in law" and his office walls displayed various plaques, including a framed law degree from Ashwood University.

The degree, shipped from a diploma mill in Pakistan, is bogus.

On its website, Ashwood University offers to sell everything from high school diplomas to PhDs without the applicant ever taking a single class.

"No need to take admission exams, no need to study. Receive a College Degree for what you already know."

An Australian satirical TV program recently obtained an Ashwood medical diploma for a dog named Sonny.

In the "work experience" section of the application, the intrepid TV hosts of The Chaser's War on Everything said Sonny "has significant proctology experience sniffing other dogs' bums."

In an interview with the Star, Rahman stood by the authenticity of his "Bachelor of Arts in Law," saying Ashwood credited him for his "life experience," including his recruiting business and working alongside a Toronto lawyer, Pamila Bhardwaj.

Bhardwaj, who has known Rahman for 12 years and rented him space, said he travelled with her to Dubai and India, where she held seminars with people interested in living and working in Canada.

Bhardwaj recently became concerned about Rahman's activities after a bank manager alerted her that he had applied for a mortgage and a line of credit claiming to be a partner in her law firm.

"I reamed him out royally when I found out what he had done," Bhardwaj said.

Soon after, she received a text message from Rahman advising her to rent out his office, as he wouldn't need it any more.

In an interview with the Star, Rahman admitted he drove the Elmvale 11 to the isolated farmhouse and turned them over to Bob De Rosa. But he said he did that out of compassion for the Filipino workers, and made no money on the deal.

A week after the Filipinos bolted from his employ, De Rosa, the Star has found, enlisted Rahman to recruit another 191 workers for him, but his efforts to bring in another batch of foreign workers were quashed by Service Canada.

At the time, De Rosa was involved in building a 300-house subdivision called the Wye River Estates, near Elmvale.

An "undischarged bankrupt" at the time, Rahman nevertheless proposed to invest $300,000 in De Rosa's project, promising up to $10 million if he was made an equal partner.

An official with the planning department at Springwater Township said the developers obtained draft approval in 1999, but have yet to break ground on a single home.

In an hour-long interview at the Skylark Restaurant in Toronto's Little India, Rahman said he is through with the recruitment business, which he says resulted in $100,000 in losses for him and a partner.

A friend he wouldn't name owns the Skylark and has given him a job as manager until he gets back on his feet.

Provincial records show Babylin Pamani owns the restaurant.

Repeated attempts to interview him a second time about other aspects of his recruitment business uncovered by the Star were rebuffed by Rahman.

Asked how he could be driving a Porsche while supposedly bankrupt, Rahman said: "I have a friend who owns a dealership. He gives me a good deal on short-term leases."

He is not aware of the warrant for his arrest in the Philippines for illegal recruiting and fraud, he said.

"The Philippines is a very tough place to do business," Rahman said, adding he tried to open his own recruiting agency there. "We tried, but it didn't work out."

Parked outside the Gerrard St. E. eatery, the black Porsche Cayenne Turbo sits loaded with boxes of pamphlets promoting the Skylark's new all-day lunch buffet for $9.99.