Manchester hotel owner jailed for Covid Eat Out To Help Out fraud

The Merchant Hotel Credit: MEN Media

A hotel owner has been jailed for falsely claiming almost £140,000 from Government schemes to support businesses during Covid.

Shahid Naseeb Ahmed, 42, took advantage of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and also the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme while running the Merchants Hotel in Back Piccadilly in the centre of Manchester.

He was the sole director of the hotel when he made the claims between between April 2020 and August 2021.

Under the Eat Out scheme, he falsely claimed £61,165, and from the job retention scheme a further £51,708.

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme was Rishi Sunak's bold campaign when Chancellor Credit: PA Images

Further false claims were stopped when officials at the Tax Office became suspicious.

The Eat Out scheme incentivised people to eat in restaurants and cafes by giving them a discount which the restaurateur could then claim back from the Government.

It was designed to revitalise the catering industry which had been hit by the Covid lockdown.

The job retention scheme was created to support UK employers and employees who could not maintain their current workforce because their operations were affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Under an investigation codenamed Operation Egon, HMRC discovered Ahmed did not serve food in his hotel at all.

The only “catering” was tea and coffee-making facilities in the hotel bedrooms. Yet he claimed for thousands of diners in the investigation period.

Ahmed also “doubled up” his claims by claiming for two separate hotels -  Merchants Hotel Ltd and Merchants MCR – when in fact there was only one hotel.

He fraudulently claimed for full-time staff who were part-time and said they were paid more than they were.

He also claimed the hotel had remained closed for the period of the claims when, in fact, it had reopened for part of the period.

Enquiries with a number of banks confirmed that Ahmed was the sole recipient of the cash wrongly paid.

Hotelier Shahid Ahmed falsely claimed £138,840 from two Covid support schemes Credit: PA Images

On 1 August 2023 at Manchester Crown Court, Ahmed pleaded guilty to 25 counts of Fraud. Seven other counts were allowed to lie on file. He was jailed for 40 months.

Senior Crown Court Prosecutor Maqsood Khan of CPS Mersey Cheshire’s Fraud Unit said, “Shahid Ahmed cynically took advantage of two Government schemes designed to help businesses survive a national crisis.

“He submitted fraudulent claim after fraudulent claim over many months – his fraud was systematic, deliberate and planned. He tried several ways to get as much money as he could.

“There are lots of demands on the public purse and these schemes were designed to help genuine claimants.

"People like Shahid Ahmed undermine the system and take money that is badly needed elsewhere.”

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