A Muslim cleric has been jailed for 14 years for using his position and influence to mastermind a multi-million pound property fraud and tax-dodging conspiracy.
Mehboob Akhtar, also known as Saint Pirwali Pandariman, from Stoke-on-Trent was jailed after his conviction last month on 11 offences, including cheating the tax man of £271,000, and conspiring to commit fraud.
He and nine other family members and business associates – including mortgage broker Mohammed Gaffar, 39, from St George’s Road, Preston – were found guilty of lying to mortgage lenders in order to buy-up property worth nearly £1 million in what prosecutors said was a bid to “control and dominate” areas of Stoke.
Akhtar, 60, of Farman Close in Fenton, Staffordshire, was jailed alongside his wife Khajida Akhtar, 52, after both inflated incomes on mortgage applications, to avoid hundreds of thousands in tax between them from 2003 and 2012.
Pandariman kept his name off most of the paperwork, using his wife, daughter and niece to apply for mortgages between 2005 and 2014.
When police raided homes and offices connected to the group in September 2012, they uncovered forged documents and emails relating to the conspiracy.
Judge Stephen Eyre QC, jailing Pandariman, told him: “(You used) the prestige and devotion of others to facilitate this offending.”
Opening the case against the cleric and his co-defendants at the start of their trial at Birmingham Crown Court in January, Andrew Wheeler QC, said: “These are allegations of fraud to the value of millions of pounds.
“Motives or purpose may be mixed, including greed and a desire to dominate and control areas of Stoke-on-Trent.
“This was being done for the main benefit of Mehboob Akhtar, also known as Saint Pirwali Pandariman or SPP.
“SPP was considered by himself and others to be a holy man based at the Darbar Unique Centre in Fenton.
“His spiritual reputation and position in the community are important when considering his role and relationship with the other defendants.
“He is surrounded by others, family members and followers, who are willing to do his bidding.
“The precise relationship between him and others is not easy to determine because they have sometimes sought to conceal associations.”
Pandariman was convicted of cheating Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), two counts of conspiracy to defraud, five charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, three charges of conspiracy to obtain a money transfer by deception, and conspiracy to make an article for use in fraud.
His wife, of Hartwell Lane, Stoke, was jailed for four years and three months for cheating the HMRC, entering into arrangement to facilitate use or control of criminal property, and two counts of conspiracy to obtain a money transfer.
His 29-year-old daughter Rushbamani Akhtar, also of Hartwell Lane, was convicted of entering into an agreement to facilitate use of criminal property, and conspiracy to commit fraud, for which she was jailed for three-and-a-half years in total.
Co-conspirator 46-year-old Mohammed Hussain, described in court as Pandariman’s “right-hand man” and nephew-in-law, from the city’s Castleton Road, was jailed for seven years.
He admitted conspiring to defraud, five counts of conspiracy to commit fraud, and three counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception.
Another of Pandariman’s relatives Alfan Ali, 39, of Farman Close, was jailed for six years in total, for three counts of conspiracy to commit fraud and a charge of conspiracy to make an article for use in fraud
Mortgage broker Mohammed Gaffar, 39, from St George’s Road, Preston, was jailed for five years, for two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud and making an article for use in fraud.
Pandariman’s 41-year-old niece Naqiat Akhtar, of Cottage Close, Stoke, was handed three-and-a-half years behind bars for conspiracy to obtain a money transfer by deception, conspiracy to defraud, and conspiracy to make an article for use in fraud.
Another mortgage broker Graham Lockstone, 49, of Rington Lane in Bristol, was also jailed for three-and-a-half years for conspiracy to commit fraud, making articles for use in fraud, and possession of articles for use in fraud.
Pandariman’s assistant 52-year-old Carla Parrish, of Church Road, and Abdul Wahab, 53, of Cottage Close, both Stoke, were each jailed for one year for their part in the fraud conspiracy.