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31 Mar 2013

Jobless Iraqi "sublets taxpayer funded flat for £4k a week"

An unemployed Iraqi 'benefit queen' charged £4,000 a week to sublet a taxpayer funded £2million flat, it has been claimed.

Bushra al-Rahimi is claimed to have rented out the flat to a family of Kuwaiti tourists, while also being in receipt of housing benefits from Westminster city council to cover the cost of the city centre five-bedroom property.

Al-Rahimi and her family have now been re-housed at taxpayers' expense in nearby Islington, in a block of flats where another property is let at £5,000 a month.

The alleged offence came to light after director of Lord Estates Hany Hanna was asked to intervene by the head lessor of the flats at Harrowby Court, in a street near Marble Arch, the Sunday Times has reported.

Mr Hanna said when he called at the flat, which is close to Tony Blair’s home in Connaught Square, in the first week of July 2011 a man claiming to be the rightful tenant opened the door - in an e-mail to the head lessor Anthony Slingsby, Mr Hanna said he could tell by his accent he was from Kuwait.

He said he heard the man talking on the phone after he shut the door and was later called by al-Rahimi who asked him to leave. He accused her of committing a fraud and warned her the matter had been reported to Seymour police station.

Mr Hanna last week said the man in the flat told him he was paying £4,000 a week rent when he told him to leave.

Al-Rahimi and her four children moved back into the flat, but she was accused again of unauthorised subletting on December 23.

According to the Sunday Times, when the flat's owner, Jean-Francois Destexhe, 42, a multi-millionaire based in Hong Kong, visited the property he found two young Frenchman paying £800 to £1,000 a week to share a single bedroom.

In March 2012 he instructed solicitors to evict al-Rahimi, who is believed to receive jobseeker's allowance of £71 a week, and an order for possession was granted by the Central London county court in October that same year - she was ordered to pay £30,800 in rent arrears, although Destexhe says he is still owed the money.

Mr Destexhe said he did not feel he should criticise because he is an overseas resident, but admitted he did not understand, 'why a government would feel it needs every council, including the ones situated in the most expensive areas of Europe, to carry the burden of accommodating these people under the welfare system'.

Lindsey Hall, Westminster city council’s anti-fraud tsar, said it was investigating 'for possible illegal subletting last year, and those investigations are continuing'.

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