Fraudsters jailed after being found guilty in trial without a jury

A gang of fraudsters who attempted to steal more than £800,000 have been sentenced after being found guilty at a trial conducted without a jury.

Shahid Mohammad, Zahid Mohammed, Mohammed Maroof, Adnan Sharif, Mohsan Hussain and Usman Sharif were convicted by a judge in March this year for cheating HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) out of the money by using more than 90 bogus companies as fronts.

Jurors in their trial were discharged in November following reports of jury tampering, with the Court of Appeal ruling in January that the judge could continue the trial alone as delaying proceedings would cause a “huge inconvenience”.

HMRC said that the gang used 91 fake companies to submit tax claims and VAT repayments worth around £470,000 between January 2015 and November 2016.

The fraudsters set up a fake recruitment firm to steal identities and list people as directors of bogus car dealerships without their knowledge, using the addresses of vacant premises across the Midlands for their fake dealerships.

Personal information stolen through the recruitment firm was used to record made-up vehicle sales and complete car finance agreements with lenders, with money then transferred and withdrawn in cash.

The firms were used to make fraudulent VAT repayment claims, with further payments worth around £380,000 blocked by HMRC.

A trial began at Birmingham Crown Court on September 4 last year, with the jury beginning deliberations on November 13.

Birmingham Crown Court
All six men were sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court (Joe Giddens/PA)

The next day, the same juror was allegedly approached by a different person who suggested one defendant was their cousin and they were concerned about them “going down”.

The juror did not tell anyone about the alleged incidents until deliberations had begun, with the jury discharged on November 17.

Legally, a judge can continue a trial without a jury if there is evidence that tampering has taken or will take place, provided it is still fair to the defendants.

But barristers for Shahid Mohammad, Usman Sharif and Adnan Sharif took the case to the Court of Appeal, arguing the decision by the judge to continue alone infringed on their right to a fair trial.

Three senior judges dismissed their claim, with the Lady Chief Justice Baroness Carr saying it was “never too late” for a judge to take over a trial if the “integrity of the jury” is compromised.

A seventh man, Nathan Downes, will be sentenced on May 20.

Following the sentencing, Mark Robinson, operational lead of the Fraud Investigation Service at HMRC, said: “Shahid Mohammad and his criminal gang caused utter misery for dozens of innocent people whose stolen details were used in this fraud.

“A huge amount of effort and planning went into committing these offences, which stole much-needed money from our public services.

“We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to pursue the small minority who commit these types of crimes and we urge anyone with information about tax evasion to report it to HMRC online.”

Shahid Mohammad, 31, Zahid Mohammad, 30, and 28-year-old Maroof, all of Derby, were convicted of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue, with Shahid Mohammad also found guilty of two counts of fraud.

Usman Sharif, 41 and Adnan Sharif, 43, of Birmingham, were also convicted of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue, while Hussain, 25, also of Birmingham, was found guilty of money laundering.

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