"the vast majority of this was motivated by greed."
Former councillor Mohammed Ikram was jailed for two years and six months after he tried to steal more than £430,000 through the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
He made 19 fraudulent claims under then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s initiative over four weeks in August and September 2020.
It is the first conviction for Covid scheme fraud for HMRC.
The 36-year-old made 19 bogus claims totalling £434,073 through the scheme for eight different food outlets.
Prosecutor Timothy Jacobs said six of the businesses were either “entirely fictitious” or legitimate companies he had no connection with.
Bradford Crown Court heard Ikram had some link with two food outlets but not a “current one”.
Ikram was also a member of Keighley Town Council until he resigned in 2022.
Mr Jacobs said eight of the 19 claims were paid by the Government, with just over £189,000 being paid into bank accounts held by Ikram’s wife. The other 11 claims were rejected.
More than half the money paid out has been recovered by HMRC but just under £93,000 is outstanding.
Ikram registered with the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, using his own name and telephone number for each of his claims.
The IP address used was later traced to his home in Keighley, West Yorkshire.
Thirteen of the claims related to either fake food outlets or real ones Ikram had no link with, including one address that was actually a barbers’ shop, one that was a hotel that had closed down, and a community cafe that operated only every third Sunday.
Mr Jacobs said five of the claims related to Khan’s Cafe, which Ikram had been associated with up until March 2020, “but his involvement had ceased by the time the claims were made”.
Ikram and his wife were arrested on June 16, 2021, following an investigation by HMRC’s Taxpayer Protection Taskforce. The case against his wife was later dropped.
Ikram admitted cheating the public revenue, fraud by false representation and associated money laundering.
In mitigation, Nick Worsley said his client had racked up debts of more than £75,000 in relation to “running a care home in Manchester” and “stupidly” saw the Eat Out to Help Out scheme “as a way of solving his immediate financial difficulties”.
He said Ikram was “a man of good character who has contributed much to the community in a very positive way” and the offending was “an aberration”.
Deputy Circuit Judge Timothy Clayson told Ikram:
“Even if I accept your assertion that some of this money was obtained with a view to covering financial obligations, given the sums involved it’s apparent the vast majority of this was motivated by greed.”
Ikram was jailed for two years and six months.
Simon York, director of the fraud investigation service, HMRC, said:
“This was a blatant fraud by somebody who held a position of trust and responsibility.”
“These schemes were designed to support individuals and businesses during a terribly difficult period.
“Instead, Mohammed Ikram stole money which should have been paying for vital public services and helping those who needed it most.
“This is the first conviction of Covid scheme fraud by HMRC, but we have arrested 70 people and have a number of cases working their way through the criminal justice system.
“So far, we have prevented the payment of, or recovered more than £1.2 billion, with compliance activity still ongoing.”