A family of benefit fraudsters who failed to turn up for the conclusion of their trial and are believed to have left the country have been given jail terms in their absence.
Lambeth Council brought the prosecutions against the five brothers and sisters, who defrauded Lambeth tax payers of more than £30,000 in housing and council tax benefit.
The family, who are from Streatham, submitted forged tenancy agreements purporting to be from private landlords, as well as false housing and council tax benefit claims. They would forge documents that inflated the amount of rent they were supposed to be paying to landlords, and used these to claim benefits from the council, ripping off tax payers by thousands of pounds.
Towards the end of the three week trial, they failed to appear at court, texting their defence lawyers to ask that the case be adjourned because they had to go to Pakistan for a family emergency. A warrant has been issued for their arrest.
The five, Ifran Khalique, Nazia Khalique, Bushra Khalique, Imran Khan, Seema Khalique were all found guilty in their absence and handed prison sentences at Inner London Crown Court.
Councillor Paul McGlone, Lambeth Council’s Cabinet member elect for Finance, said; “This was a brazen and fairly sophisticated fraud over quite a prolonged period, but these offenders were brought to justice thanks to the skill and professionalism of our Fraud Investigation Team, who had suspicions about their claims and launched an investigation.
“People who commit benefit fraud are ripping off the tax payer and it’s our policy to always prosecute offenders, something that has resulted in dozens of successful prosecutions and saved millions of pounds of public money over the past few years. The clear message from this case is that if you commit benefit fraud, beware. Our fraud investigation team will be one step ahead of you and you will be caught and brought to justice.
“I am grateful that the judge regarded this fraud as being so serious as to warrant a custodial sentence. Their behaviour in leaving the country without permission before the trial concluded is extremely regrettable but we have no doubt that they will return soon when they will be forced to face up to the fact they will be going to prison. Lambeth Council will continue to work to protect tax payers’ money by rooting out and tackling fraudsters.”
Lambeth Council’s suspicions were aroused in 2007 when officers began to look into the family’s claim history.
Investigators found that a number of tenancy agreements presented to the council by the family, which were supposedly signed by different landlords for different properties, contained the striking similarities that suggested they had actually been completed by the same person or people. Handwriting was similar and the same words misspelled. Incorrect addresses were also given for landlords, and the defendants’ phone numbers given in place of the landlords’, so as to avoid the council contacting the genuine landlord and discovering the fraud.
By making false claims for benefit based on over inflated rent amounts at three separate addresses, investigators worked out they had claimed more than £30,000 that they were not entitled to between them.
After being interviewed under caution by officers from Lambeth Benefit Investigations Team, the family produced a letter purporting to be from the landlord of a property they had claimed rent for. The letter said that the sisters had been resident in his property but that he did not want any further involvement in the matter. When investigators later spoke to the landlord, he said that had not written the letter, clear evidence of the family trying to hamper the investigation.
All five family members, of Beechcroft Close, Streatham, were convicted of fraudulently obtaining benefits and were given custodial sentences on Thursday 13 May.
Seema Khalique, 34, was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment.
Imran Khalique Khan, 35, was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment.
Bushra Khalique, 33, was sentenced to 7 months imprisonment.
Nazia Khalique, 28, was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment.
Irfan Khalique, 32, was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.