"She relies upon her fraudulent conduct"
The unmarried ‘widow’ of a millionaire buy-to-let boss won nearly £400,000 of his fortune following a court battle with his children, however, she could face jail after it was revealed that she is a benefits cheat.
Fiaz Ali Shah died in April 2020, leaving behind a property portfolio and £1.1 million in the bank.
His last will from 2018 left all his wealth to his son, leaving Cindy Jassal without a penny.
Cindy married Mr Shah in an Islamic ceremony in 2003, but they never had a civil marriage and so were not legally bound as husband-and-wife.
Following his death, she sued for a payout.
Cindy insisted that they had lived together as spouses and she was entitled to be supported despite being cut out of his will.
A judge at the High Court ruled in her favour, handing her a £385,000 payout.
However, it was revealed that Cindy had committed “very serious” fraud by claiming to her local authority that she and Mr Shah were not co-habiting in order to fraudulently claim housing benefit.
Judge Marsh ordered that a transcript of the judgement and Cindy’s own evidence, in which she admitted housing benefit fraud, should be sent for investigation.
He ordered that details of her “very serious” dishonesty be passed on to her local council, the DWP and HMRC for investigation.
He also ordered that £200,000 of her payout be held back.
Mr Shah earned his fortune through buy-to-lets and property maintenance.
He and Cindy, whose real name is Srendarjit, had an Islamic ceremony in 2003. They moved to a house in Slough in 2006.
They briefly separated in 2012, but she claimed that they went back to living together up until his death.
Mr Shah’s will left his entire estate to his son, prompting Cindy to sue.
However, the son, backed by his three sisters, claimed that their father and Cindy were not truly in a marriage-like relationship after 2012.
At that point, Cindy had moved out of their home and into another property in his name in Salt Hill Mansions, which was paid for with housing benefits.
But Cindy said that the move was false, that she part-owned the other property and that she had returned to Sussex Close after only a short time away.
In his ruling, the judge said:
“She relies upon her fraudulent conduct in making a housing benefit claim and receiving housing benefit over an extended period.
“She positively asserts that her claim to Slough Council for housing benefit, resulting in payment of more than £60,000 by way of rent, was fraudulent.
“She does so in order to demonstrate that her connection to the address for which benefit was paid was not a real one.
“There is no way of dressing up this conduct. It was dishonest and knowingly dishonest and it was part of a pattern of dishonest conduct.”
Cindy provided evidence from three neighbours who confirmed that the couple had lived together as husband and wife in Sussex Close.
She also showed the judge more than 600 text messages between them.
Cindy also pointed to a Valentine’s card sent by Mr Shah months before he died. It read:
“But I still love you, no one can love you like me.”
The judge said that Cindy’s case had hinged on her own and her partner’s “pattern of dishonesty” over many years.
In 2007, Cindy had been granted a “clearly fictional” tenancy over the Sussex Close house in order to make it appear that she lived alone.
From 2013, she was granted another tenancy over the Salt Hill Mansions flat when in fact, she jointly owned it with Mr Shah and did not even live there.
It allowed for benefits claims to be made. At the same time, she asserted in claims for jobseekers’ allowance, income support and incapacity benefits that she was single.
That meant Mr Shah’s savings were not disclosed, despite the fact that he had £427,000 in cash to his name by the time he died.
The judge said Cindy had “without doubt misled Slough Borough Council” in her housing benefit claim, showing a “consistent pattern of dishonesty” by the couple.
In her witness statement, she had written:
“I accept that I did make a false claim for housing benefit from 2013 until the death of Fiaz.”
“However, I didn’t live at this property at any time during my relationship with Fiaz.”
However, the judge said the evidence highlighted that she was right in her claim that she and Mr Shah had lived together in the years up to his death as though they were married, and so was entitled to money from his estate.
He said: “The evidence of the neighbours is not perfect, but it has not been challenged.
“It points to a settled long-term relationship, akin to a marriage, between the claimant and Fiaz in the same household.”
On the text messages, the judge said:
“Taken overall, the messages point to much more than a casual girlfriend-boyfriend relationship or an on-off relationship.
“I am satisfied that the claimant and Fiaz were living in the last two years of his life in the same household as if they were husband and wife.”
He awarded Cindy £385,000 from the estate, but said £200,000 of that would be held back to give the authorities a chance to bring proceedings against her in relation to benefit fraud.