Just as we warned that the furlough scheme would be vulnerable to potential fraudsters, we also suspected that the Government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme could prove to be just too tempting for some selfish and deceitful individuals out there.
Sadly, we were right, and whilst HMRC have already been snowed under with the furlough fraudsters, the first few stories are starting to filter through about wrongun’ restaurateurs and fraudulent franchisees who have defrauded the public of millions upon millions of pounds…
One of these individuals is reported to be Raheel Choudhary, a millionaire businessman, who owns 61 Papa John’s franchises.
His story is sickening, and we should warn you that it is likely to make your blood boil…
As soon as Rishi Sunak announced the implementation of the scheme, designed to prop up a struggling industry, saving jobs and livelihoods in the process, Mr Choudhary set to work on his plan.
He instructed his workers to put through so called ‘phantom covers’, despite the fact that the majority of his franchises were not even eligible for the scheme.
In fact, the UK head office for Papa John’s franchisees warned Mr Choudhary that he should not be applying to join this scheme, as he was neither eligible or even in need of the support, mainly as his restaurants were already fairing very well after a busy lockdown.
The majority of the covers were put through as voucher sales, meaning that no actual proof or paper trail was ever needed. The managers at the restaurants were simply instructed to put the fake orders through, and ‘cash in’ the 50% payment from the Governement.
If it hadn’t have been for whistle-blowers, Mr Choudhary’s wrongdoings may have forever gone unnoticed, as he tried to blackmail his workforce into colluding. In some cases, there are reports that managers were paid bonuses for the number of fake covers they put through, whilst workers were threatened with losing their jobs if they refused. Indeed, it is thought that some workers did actually lose their jobs over the resulting disagreements...
A few statistics to consider:
5 branches went from almost zero voucher payments in the two months before the voucher scheme, to more than £23,000 while it was in operation.
These same branches, despite not having any facilities for dining in, recorded more than 1,700 Eat Out to Help Out orders. Not one customer was recorded as having actually ‘dined in’ during this period.
49 orders went through in the space of one minute in one restaurant, on the stroke of midnight, a restaurant that could not fit 10 people in, even before social distancing.
A spokesperson has confirmed that Mr Choudhary claimed nearly £200, 000 on the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
It almost beggars belief, and whilst his staff were worrying about their hours being cut and the security of their jobs, he was emailing managers and instructing them on exactly how they could get the most out of this most sickening of scams.
Worryingly, we fear that stories like this are just the tip of the iceberg, and that in the months and years ahead, the stories of how the Great British public were defrauded and robbed by a greedy minority, will start to increase like the rate of coronavirus infection itself.