Two men who invented fake charities and donations to claim more than £500,000 in Gift Aid repayments have both been jailed for 30 months.
Abdulshakour Juma, 43, and Ashraf Salim Ali, 42, both of whom were unemployed, claimed they were trustees of the two charities East Coast of African Community and the Bongo Community Association, which they claimed supported the east African community in Southend.
The men, both from Essex, then submitted Gift Aid repayments based on donations made to the charities.
A statement today from HM Revenue and Customs said its investigation found the men were making up the donations to falsely claim repayments.
Approximately £140,000 in repayments was paid out to Juma and Ali before an HMRC investigation began. The pair were arrested in June 2013.
After his arrest, Juma also admitted making fraudulent Working Tax Credit claims of £1,012 by claiming he was employed by one of the charities.
Juma pleaded guilty at Basildon Crown Court on 9 November and was sentenced on 21 December. Ali pleaded guilty on the same date, but failed to turn up to the 21 December hearing. He was jailed by Southend Crown Court on Monday.
The Bongo Community Association was registered as a charity by the Charity Commission in July 2012 and removed in January 2015 because it ceased to exist, according to its entry on the regulator’s website.
The East Coast of African Community was registered in 2010 and remains on the commission’s register. It has never filed any accounts and its documents for 2011/12 are more than 1,000 days overdue.
On sentencing Juma, Judge Graham, said: "If all claims had been paid, more than £500,000 would have been the benefit of this fraud. There are two reasons this sort of offending is taken seriously – it is a fraud on the public purse and it makes life much more difficult for people making genuine claims."
Mike O’Grady, assistant director of the fraud investigation service at HMRC, said: "The fact that this pair would stoop so low as to use a charity as a front to extort money from the taxpayer is shameful. Gift Aid is in place to support legitimate charities and offer extra funding, not as an extra income for greedy criminals to abuse the system.
"HMRC and our partners, the Charity Commission and Essex Police, have brought to justice two selfish criminals who, had they not been stopped, would have robbed our public services of a great deal more."
HMRC said it would try to recover the money from the pair.