UK judge demands answers after criminal secures Covid loan

Asif Hussain was jailed for 15 years for fraud and Middle East stolen car smuggling racket

Asif Hussain was the ringleader of a gang that send stolen Range Rovers to the Middle East. Photo: Greater Manchester Police
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A British judge has demanded an explanation after a drug dealer and car thief with at least 48 convictions secured a £50,000 government loan under a Covid-19 business recovery programme.

Judge Anthony Cross said that it defied belief that Asif Hussain, 44, had secured the money for a “bogus” company less than seven days after successfully applying to the government’s “bounce back loan” scheme.

The judge said that it was the second time within a few months that he had sentenced criminals who had secured “huge” sums from the government scheme and he gave officials 14 days to respond in writing to explain how it had happened.

“That a criminal such as you could obtain such a huge sum is staggering,” the judge said, as he jailed Hussain over a car-theft ring and fraud. “I do not accept for one moment that you intended to repay the BBL [bounce back loan] nor could you. That money is long gone.

“Here the most basic of checks would have revealed the fraud,” said the judge, sitting in Manchester. “The public are entitled to an explanation as to how these loans were obtained. That explanation must be made public.”

The UK launched the bounce back loan scheme at the start of the pandemic to help small business with government-backed lending of up to £50,000 ($68,107).

The £47 billion programme launched in May 2020 but failed to include credit checks or verify the small businesses applying for loans, according to the National Audit Office watchdog. It closed to new applications in April 2021.

The watchdog found that nearly £17bn may never be paid back, including £5bn that had been stolen by fraudsters. The watchdog said the government had prioritised getting loans to businesses quickly over prevention of fraud.

Hussain, of Bolton, north-west England, was the ringleader of a six-strong group involved in stealing high-value cars before breaking them up or exporting them to the Middle East.

They stole at least 95 cars, including Range Rovers, Mercedes and Porches, from across the country, with a minimum value of £3m.

The operation started in 2019 but for at least a year was an “international operation, no doubt involving criminals operating in the Middle East,” said the judge.

In a single year, 11 containers were shipped to the Middle East. Three were intercepted, one before it left the UK bound for Dubai, a second was stopped in Istanbul and a third returned unopened from its intended destination of Sharjah. They all contained stolen Range Rovers.

Hussain, who was said to have 11 phones, and one other man were sentenced for involvement in the bounce back loan fraud.

Hussain was jailed for 15 years for running the stolen car network and fraud.

“Your greed knew no bounds,” the judge told him. “You knew where the vehicles were coming from and how. Yet you took them. Not content with selling them to the domestic market you formed a new conspiracy and shipped them abroad.”

Updated: January 21, 2022, 4:15 PM