AN ENTREPRENEUR, well-known across the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane, is being investigated following allegations he sold sponsored visas for up to $40,000.
The Daily can exclusively reveal that the Department of Home Affairs is investigating Hom Pyashi, with a complaint made against him by a member of the Nepalese community.
After moving to Australia in 2009 to study engineering at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Mr Pyashi started to make a name for himself running a string of successful businesses, including the Coast's first Nepalese restaurant - Gurkhali in Golden Beach.
Mr Pyashi also formerly jointly owned Huss's Grill Cafe in Caloundra, Eighty Eight 48 in Fortitude Valley and the Engine Room Cafe in Tenerife.
A Nepalese national reported Mr Pyashi to the Department of Home Affairs in a letter which has been obtained by the Daily.
In it, the man claimed Mr Pyashi was known to charge workers $35,000 to $40,000 for a sponsored visa through his restaurants and that those employees were only paid "about $500" a week despite working more than full-time hours.
Other people who allegedly paid Mr Pyashi for residency didn't even work in the restaurants, the man claimed, but instead worked driving taxis or at "cash in hand" jobs.
Mr Pyashi denied the allegations, and while admitted to sponsoring skilled workers before, denied ever charging them money.
"I am aware that some businesses in Australia do charge, but I can assure you that I never have," he said.
A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson told the Daily that "attempts to exploit Australia's permanent and temporary skilled visa programmes will not be tolerated," and sources within the department have confirmed Mr Pyashi is currently under investigation.
Mr Pyashi said one of his businesses had previously received a "monitoring request" from the department and had been "chastised" for failing to keep adequate records, but that he was not aware of any current investigations.
According to online news website South Asia, in 2015 Mr Pyashi was reportedly "so broke" that wife was "frantically" applying for jobs to help him out, but by mid-2017 their company had sunk $250,000 into The Engine Room cafe.
Mr Pyashi and his business partner Swotantra Pratap Shah also invested some $500,000 into Eighty Eight 48, the article claimed.
His charity, the Uniting Hands Foundation, won a tender for cafe's waterfront spot which was open for social enterprises to apply for - a decision which was controversial at the time given the charity had only been registered for a year.
Mr Pyashi said he gave away his share to the cafe on March 5, 2018 due to cashflow difficulties, as well as his shares in Eighty Eight 48 - both to his former business partner.
He said those who accuse him may be "past employees who were disgruntled over the loss of opportunity to obtain a permanent visa".
"Perhaps this is their way of seeking revenge and if they are so hurt by what happened, I feel so sorry for them," Mr Pyashi said.
"Every day I regret my generous offer to help them, only to disappoint. At all times, my heart was there to help and assist these people and give them the opportunity to make a real life change for them and their family."
THE CHARITY CONTROVERSY
MR PYASHI'S charity, The Uniting Hands Foundation, was controversially granted a tender by the Brisbane City Council in August 2016 despite only being registered as a charity with the Australian Charity and Not-for-profit Commission since 2015.
The tender was for a social enterprise cafe project in an historic Teneriffe building and allowed Mr Pyashi to open the Engine Room Cafe in the space.
In his bid, Mr Pyashi also offered the council a base rent of $35,000 per annum, 2 per cent of sales over $800,000, 3 per cent of sales over $1 million and 5 per cent of sales of $1.5 million as reported by the Brisbane Times.
In July 2017, Mr Pyashi told online news site South Asia that all his businesses including The Engine Room Cafe in Teneriffe and Eighty Eight 48 contributed 10 per cent of their profits to the charity, but ACNC records show his charity reported receiving $0 in its 2016 and 2017 annual information statements.
A charity that lost out on the tender bid, Footprints, recorded a total of comprehensive income of $50,266 in that time.
A Brisbane City Council spokesperson said the tender was awarded using a "variety of criteria, including how the successful organisation would give back to the local community".
Mr Pyashi told the Daily he had intended to give money the charity, but his businesses never turned a profit.
"All that happened was it drained my life savings and now I have nothing," he said.
"It is still a registered charity, but it never received any money and importantly, it never claimed any benefit or tax relief."
According to Mr Pyashi, he gave away his shares to the cafe in March this year along with those in Eighty Eight 48 in Fortitude Valley.
"What I failed to understand is that the hospitality industry is extremely hard to make a profit from and all of my businesses used up profits to support other ventures that were losing money," he said.
The media questioned the council's decision at the time as the charity's website was filled with holding text and stock images, but Lord Mayor Graham Quirk backed Mr Pyashi.
"This is a social enterprise with a big heart, with a percentage of the profits raised from the café going back into the foundation to support further charity work," Cr Quirk said at the time.
Now the website boasts that donations by "the kind hearts of Australia" have aided in the construction of a primary school in Nepal and ongoing flood relief, but it's impossible to donate on the site.