Johura Begum, 32, spent £130 a time at the hairdressers despite wearing a burka and splashed out on designer clothes and handbags, while claiming a car accident had made her unfit to work. She said her husband Mohammed Chowdhury was earning as little as £30 a week as a waiter, when in fact he owned the successful Spices Tandoori restaurant in Colchester.
Begum was jailed for eight months after being found guilty of fiddling £82,000 and had to forcibly led to the cells by security officers at the Old Bailey.
‘Prison?’ she pleased. ‘I’ve got two children. Please let me speak to my lawyer.’
One of the officers told her: ‘You can speak to him in the cells,’ as she was pulled from the dock.
The court heard Begum and her husband Mohammed Chowdhury, 33, began making fraudulent claims in 2007. Begum said she had twice been involved in car accidents when her husband was driving.
‘She claimed a medical condition had made her unfit for work,’ said prosecutor Pauline Thompson.
‘Eight days after that claim was successful, Chowdhury applied for housing benefit and council tax benefit.’
But the couple failed to mention was that her mother owned the property they were living in at Inworth Walk, Colchester, Essex. The fraud continued for five years, even when the couple moved in with her parents at Willis House, in Hale Street, Poplar and Begum claimed for £1,150 in rent. On the dole forms Begum would claim she had nothing in her bank account when she had taken out up to £800 on that very day.
‘There were extensive shopping expeditions including trips to the hairdresser which cost her £130,’ said Ms Thompson. ‘She had a penchant for visits to the high end shops in Canary Wharf. This was a lady who purchased her groceries in Waitrose. She also spent £400 at Burberry and £200 at Reiss.’
During this time Chowdhury owned the Spices Restaurant in Butt Road, Colchester, but claimed he could only get around 16 hours waiting work a week for which he was paid between £30 and £40.
Begum of Poplar admitted seven charges of fraud and fraud by false representation. After her arrest she has continued insist she had no idea her husband ran his own restaurant or that her parents owned a property in Ipswich.
The court heard Begum, who has previous convictions for shoplifting, was born in Bangladesh but came to the UK when she was a child. Her father Abdul Mannan has lived here for 40 years but does not speak a word of English. Mannan was originally charged with his daughter but the case was dropped by the prosecution.
Chowdhury admitted one count of fraud, and five counts of fraud by false representation. He was due to be sentenced with his wife but failed to turn up at court and a warrant is out for his arrest.
Begum’s barrister Girish Thanki claimed Chowdhury was a drug addict and a gambler who had married his wife bigamously. He said Chowdhury would not let his wife go out to work - even though she was desperate to get a job. ‘She went along with this fraud. She was in genuine fear,’ Mr Thanki said. He claimed Chowdhury also forced to have an abortion when he did not want to have another child.
‘She accepts there was an element of extravagant spending by her. She was able to buy the fashion items', Mr Thanki added. ‘She did this because the money was there. She did not know that he was running a restaurant because his life was a complete mystery to her. She was a dutiful wife. She knew what was going on but there was very little opportunity to do anything.’
He asked for a suspended sentence but Judge Richard Marks was unimpressed.
‘The amount that this fraud obtained was in the region of £82,000,’ the judge said:
The length of time this fraud spanned together with the sums concerned make it a fraud of considerable seriousness. Benefits fraud of this type is unhappily prevalent and costs the taxpayer billions of pounds.The judge told Begum:
It is apparent from the bank evidence that certainly on a number of occasions you enjoyed expensive shopping expeditions including a trip to the hairdresser for £130, shopping at Waitrose, spending £400 on Burberry and a spend of over £200 on Reiss. You knew exactly what you were doing you played a full part on it and you benefited from it.