A charity treasurer who used a now defunct charity to falsely claim almost £40,000 in Gift Aid has narrowly avoided jail.
At a sentencing hearing at Preston Crown Court on Monday, Zunaid Abubaker Patel, 31, of Burnley Road, Blackburn, was sentenced to an eight-month suspended prison sentence, a two-year supervision order and 200 hours of unpaid community work after pleading guilty to fraud involving the now deregistered charity Help Africa.
A statement from HM Revenue & Customs said Patel submitted claims for Gift Aid relief on non-existent donations of £149,678 on behalf of the charity. He claimed Gift Aid payments of £37,419.
The charity received £18,000 in Gift Aid from the false claims, which was stolen by Patel, before the fraud was detected by HMRC. It said it had begun action to recover the stolen money.
At the sentencing, Judge Waldron QC described Patel’s crime as "repugnant", according to HMRC’s statement.
He said Patel, a health worker, had a "high degree of responsibility and therefore culpability as a trustee of the charity" and that he had "avoided prison by a whisker".
The Charity Commission said it had opened a compliance case on Help Africa.
A commission spokeswoman said: "We welcome this outcome, which demonstrates that the courts take very seriously any abuse of charities for private benefit.
"We have been working with HMRC to help secure the conviction and sentencing of Mr Patel, including by providing assistance and intelligence to HMRC and providing a witness statement for the court proceedings.
"We have been looking into concerns about the now defunct charity and will publish a case report once the case has concluded."
Sandra Smith, assistant director at HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, said: "This was a despicable crime designed purely to steal from taxpayers, while pretending to support vulnerable people and communities overseas.
"Patel thought he could abuse the Gift Aid system to enhance his own lifestyle without getting caught, but when it comes to uncovering fraud HMRC investigators are experts.
"Patel will now pay the price for his criminal actions."