London: An Indian-origin former politician and his wife have been convicted of fraud by false representation after they were found guilty of falsifying information to acquire a COVID-19 support loan offered by the UK government.
Harman Banger, 40, and wife Neena Kumari, 38, were convicted at Wolverhampton Magistrates’ Court last week and will be sentenced at the same court in central England on January 14, 2022.
The court heard that Banger, a former local councillor, used knowledge from having cabinet responsibility at Wolverhampton City Council for overseeing the implementation of the COVID-19 Bounce Back Loans to cheat the system.
“As a trusted, elected official, Harman Banger abused his position of power alongside his wife Neena Kumari in order to de-fraud the public at a time of national crisis, said Wendy Stevens, Specialist Fraud Prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)|.
“Banger had a deep understanding of the eligibility of such COVID-19 business support schemes and tried to exploit the system by claiming for a business that the pair knew was not eligible,” she said.
The couple submitted an application for a small business grant under the COVID-19 Bounce Back Loan scheme of GBP 10,000 for Pizza Plus, a business they shared ownership of, on April 24 last year, claiming that it had been operating since October 2019.
However, an investigation by Wolverhampton Council’s counter-fraud team and West Midlands Police established there were no records of electricity being supplied to the business address until May 16, 2020.
The property had been boarded up and was in a state of disrepair showing that the business was not in fact operating as the pair had fraudulently claimed when applying for the government’s financial assistance. As a result of the investigation the British taxpayer-funded grant was not paid out.
In March 2020, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak had introduced the Bounce Back Loans as part of a series of financial measures for businesses whose trade was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic related lockdowns. Since then, there have been several reports of misuse of these schemes as part of anti-fraud investigations.