Two brothers who fleeced taxpayers out of £315,000 in a house-swapping scam involving their wives walked free after a judge said the 'greatest punishment' was the loss of their good names. (h/t Dave)
Mohammed Amin, 40, and his wife, Kauser Aktar, 38, switched homes with Aftab Ahmed, 39, and his wife Sobia Shaheen, 32, so the women could pretend to be tenants and claim housing benefits.
The Pakistani couples - who have 11 children between them - submitted bogus tenancy agreements for 16 years, raking in £314,452.25, Snaresbrook Crown Court in east London heard on Friday.
Amin and Aktar, who have seven children, pocketed £153,000 from the council in Ilford, Essex, and Aktar got £74,000 from the Department of Work and Pensions by pretending to be a single mother.
Shaheen - who has a previous benefit fraud conviction for lying about being a single mother - and Ahmed fleeced the London Borough of Redbridge out of more than £87,000 while living in Ilford.
Father-of-four Ahmed, who earns £40,000 a year as a Ford production manager, was a 'religious man' and had planned a family Hajj pilgrimage to ask God 'for forgiveness', the court was told.
Shaheen, a 'fervent' Muslim dressed in a burka, arrived at court with designer Louis Vuitton luggage.
According to reports in a Sunday newspaper, Amin, who runs a pizza shop in Bethnal Green, east London, has built up an international property portfolio with apartments in Dubai and Budapest.
But Judge Neil Sanders suspended their sentences due to their 'exceptional circumstances', including the fact they have now repaid all the cash and concerns over care of the 11 children.
The two couples, all of Pakistani origin, are now saddled with debts totalling around £250,000.
'Each couple swapped houses and made claims for housing benefit and income support,' Mark Himsworth, prosecuting, said. 'The female defendants said they were not related to their landlords, the other brothers.
'They made misrepresentations, through submitting a significant number of tenancy agreements, that they were paying a genuine rate when they were paying the brothers' mortgages through false claims. The female defendants are responsible for the money in respect of their own claims.'
Shaheen and Ahmed ended the fraud in 2010, before council investigators became aware of it, but Aktar and Amin continued to abuse the benefit system until 2011.
'It went on for a long time and there was a great deal of manifest dishonesty,' Mr Himsworth added.
Ahmed and Amin were handed 20 months in prison, suspended for two years. Shaheen was handed a two-month jail term, while Aktar was given a four-week term, both suspended for a year.
Sentencing, Judge Sanders said: 'Each of the men bought a house in your own names with the other living in it over a long period of time, from 1995 to 2011.
'The two men dishonestly represented through their wives to the London Borough of Redbridge that this was a genuine rental arrangement, that you were unrelated to the landlord and that you were entitled to claim housing benefit in respect of the rent you were paying.
'You have both worked hard in terms of making a life for yourselves and in many ways the greatest punishment is the loss of your good name.
'This was a very serious offence and there were large amounts of money involved but quite exceptionally, the mitigating factors enable me to suspend the sentences.'
Both women were also ordered to complete a 12-week supervision requirement. Rizvan Anwar, for Ahmed, said he was 'deeply ashamed' he and his wife had become embroiled in the scam.
'Mr Ahmed accepts he applied pressure on his wife and Ms Shaheen, foolishly in hindsight, acceded to that request,’ he added. ‘She felt guilty committing these offences and asking God for forgiveness.’
'The family planned a trip in October 2011 to the Hajj pilgrimage having embraced religion, to ask God for forgiveness. That had to be cancelled because their passports were seized.
'Their lives have completely fallen apart and Mr Ahmed is now suffering from clinical depression.'
Mr Anwar, also defending Shaheen, said she has 'embraced' her Muslim beliefs far more 'fervently' and is now a 'different woman' compared to when she became involved in the scam.
'Her family live in Birmingham and she has relied on her husband's family for support,’ he added. ‘She wanted to stop this for some time.'
Graham Blower, for Amin, added: 'There are two sides to this defendant - criminality and a man who has been trying to work and better himself but going about it the wrong way and effectively being brought to book and facing up to his responsibilities.'
Ahmed and Amin, both of Ilford, admitted conspiracy to dishonestly make false representations, dishonestly obtaining property by deception, with two identical counts laid on file.
They also both admitted conspiracy to obtain money transfers by deception, with another like count laid on file.
Aktar, also of Ilford, admitted making a false representation. Further counts of obtaining property by deception and dishonestly obtaining money transfers were left on the court file.
Shaheen, also of Ilford, admitted a single count of making a false representation.