"Harman Banger abused his position of power"
An ex-councillor and his wife have been convicted of fraud after they tried to swindle thousands from a government Covid scheme for a shut pizza shop.
Former Wolverhampton councillor Harman Banger “abused his position of power” when he tried to exploit Covid bounce back loans offered to struggling businesses.
He and his wife Neena Kumari applied for a £10,000 small business grant for Pizza Plus even though it was boarded up and had no electricity supply.
In March 2020, the UK Government introduced financial assistance schemes for businesses whose trade was affected by Covid-19 lockdowns.
Banger was in charge of the Covid-19 bounce back loans at the council. However, he used his knowledge to cheat the system.
On April 24, 2020, his wife submitted an application for a small business grant for Pizza Plus, a business they jointly owned.
They claimed it had been operating since October 2019.
But Wolverhampton Council’s counterfraud team and West Midlands Police discovered there were no records of electricity being supplied to the business until May 16, 2020.
The property had been boarded up and was in a state of disrepair so had not been operating when the couple claimed it was open.
It meant no cash was paid to the fraudsters.
When the allegations surfaced, Banger resigned from the cabinet. The Labour Party suspended him pending the trial’s outcome.
At Wolverhampton Magistrates’ Court, the couple were convicted of fraud by false representation.
District Judge David Murray told Banger:
“There was not a business and you did try to obtain the grant by false representation.
“Then you employed sophisticated methods to bolster your case that the business was open. I find you guilty.”
Addressing Kumari about continuing with the “fiction” of the open business, he told her:
“It is your right not to give a comment at the police station or give evidence, but it gives the impression you would not have stood up to cross-examination.”
Banger and Kumari will be sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court on January 14, 2022.
Wendy Stevens, specialist fraud prosecutor at CPS, said:
“As a trusted, elected official, Harman Banger abused his position of power alongside his wife Neena Kumari in order to defraud the public at a time of national crisis.
“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.”