Takeaway boss who stole £20k in Covid grants spared from jail after 'council tempted him' – Express

Abbas SheriefA takeaway restaurant boss who stole nearly £20,000 in Covid grants has been spared from prison time after claiming the council “tempted” him. Abbas Sharief, ex-owner of the Middle Eastern-themed Al-Khaf restaurant received two grants after falsely claiming he needed bailout money from the Government. Sharief, a former Kurdish refugee who escaped Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, fraudulently applied for a Small Business Grant and Local Restrictions Grant as part of the Job Retention scheme.
The Covid loan schemes he used were designed to bail out restaurants that couldn’t operate amid Covid restrictions.
But because Sharief’s old premises were able to operate as a takeaway, the boss was not entitled to the payments.
Investigations into Sharief’s activities started after he tried to apply for a third grant – the Restart Grant – worth £8,000 from Manchester Council. The current owners of Al-Khaf also applied for the same handout, which triggered suspicions.
Sharief has claimed he was “tempted” by his local council who offered for him to take the loans. Rather than ignore the invitation, he caved into the temptation and took it up.
At Wigan Magistrates court, Sharief, faced jail time after admitting fraud by false representation in April 2020, January 2021, and April 2021.
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In the end, the “remorseful” man was sentenced to 26 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 12 months – meaning if he stays out of trouble he will avoid jail. He has also repaid £19,669 worth of loans.
Gwyn Lewis, defending Sharief said: “Initially, a letter which came for the council suggested to him that he was entitled to make a claim.
“The reality is that he was not entitled, but the temptation was placed in front of him and when faced with the temptation he took it.
“His greatest amount of shame is that [he] came to this country as an asylum seeker, way back in 1992 following the Gulf War.
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“He is not someone who has been idle and claiming benefits, he attended a course here and worked as a printer until an accident caused him to injure his left hand and that led to him opening a restaurant.
“The offences were committed at a time when his life was traumatic. Not just because of the pandemic but his marriage came to an end.
“He had been married for 37 years, arguments eventually came to a head and they parted company and eventually all his premises had to close.”
Mr Lewis claimed Sharief has been forced to rely on his seven children – six pharmacists and a chartered accountant – to help pay back to the council.
The lawyer claimed this is something Sharief, who he described as a “proud man”, wasn’t used to doing.
He added: “He has felt an even greater degree of shame in having to turn to his sons saying, ‘Can you help me pay this back to the council?’, which was done and quickly.
“All his children are pharmacists, except for one, who is a chartered accountant. They have all done well and are a credit to him.
“Even from the first letter he was not entitled to it, he should not have taken the money and he has done nothing but plead guilty to all matters. He is very sorry for the fact that he was involved in this.”
Jonathan Bell, prosecuting for Manchester City Council said: “Restaurants could have applied for the LRG but takeaways could not as takeaways were permitted to remain open, whilst sitting restaurants were not.
“When Al-Khaf was in occupation it was also a takeaway and for that reason, the grant should not have been paid, but the defendant received £9,669.12.
“The investigating officer initially suspected that the Al-Khaf was not a restaurant but was a takeaway and as part of the investigation the officer became aware that the defendant was not in occupation at the property and so should not have been given the Small Business Grant.”
The council billed Sharief with an invoice of £19,669 that he paid after receiving the grants.
He was also invited for an interview under caution, but his wife said he would be unable to attend because of his “mental health”, according to Mr Bell.
The council then asked for medical evidence, which was not provided.
Mr Bell added: “This is not a case of a small business acting out of desperation.”
Sharief also received a further £25,000 in the form of a Covid retail, hospitality and leisure grant from Wigan Council.
Magistrates’ chairwoman Joan Cooper said: “These are serious offences and we consider them to have crossed the custody threshold.
“You have clearly committed these offences when the opportunity has presented itself to you to obtain money illegally from the council. It’s a large amount of money and that is your reason for that.
“However, you are a man of good character, the money has been repaid and it’s obvious there is remorse on your behalf.”
Sahrief has also been made to abide by a 12-week 7pm to 7am curfew and made to pay £1,000 in council costs and a £128 victim surcharge.
But this punishment has been suspended until April 2023 because of Ramadan, which will require him to attend prayers at his local mosque.
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