Businessman who tried to con council out of £80k escapes jail

By Robert Firth, Local Democracy Reporter

A businessman who tried to con a council out of £80,000 in Covid-19 grants has escaped jail.

Mirza Altaf Ali Baig, from Birmingham, made eight fraudulent applications between May and July 2020 for Government cash, which was supposed to help small firms during the first lockdown in 2020.

He used friends’ names when applying for the money and falsely claimed they ran businesses at retail units he owned and let out to companies in Streatham.

Baig was rumbled when some of his tenants in Streatham High Road began making their own valid applications for Covid-19 grants from Lambeth council.

Four of the false claims were stopped before being paid to him.

Baig was arrested and pleaded guilty to one count of fraud by false representation about eight false Covid-19 retail hospitality and leisure grants that he applied for from the council.

At a hearing at Southwark Crown Court in November 2023, he was handed an 18-month suspended sentence and ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work. Baig was also told to pay the council back £6,000.

As he sentenced Baig, Judge Gregory Perrins said: “This was calculated, dishonest conduct at a time of national emergency, diverting funds away from people who genuinely needed it.

“Your fraud only came to light when legitimate tenants began making applications. Had you been successful, the situation would have been very different.”

Councillor David Amos, Lambeth’s cabinet member for finance, said: “The Covid pandemic was one of the biggest crises to hit this country for generations and I’m proud that Lambeth came together to support the communities and businesses that needed our help the most.

“The retail, hospitality and leisure fund was a lifeline for many of our local businesses and it is sickening to know that it was seen by some as an opportunity to profit fraudulently.

“We’ll continue to rigorously investigate and pursue any allegation of fraud, to ensure that anyone who attempts to take advantage of the system is held to account.”

Pictured top: Baig was also told to pay Lambeth council back £6,000 (Picture: Robert Firth)

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