Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Labour Councillor convicted of Benefit Fraud

Councillor convicted of benefit fraud


A ST Mary’s ward councillor has been convicted of benefit fraud.

Ali Aqeel Salamat (34), of Clifton Avenue, was found guilty at Oldham Magistrates’ Court of failing to notify the council that he worked as a taxi-driver while claiming £295.76 in benefits from July 1, 2004, to January 17, 2005.

Salamat’s case was investigated after he completed a housing and council tax benefit claim form in which he declared that he and his wife, Naveen Akhtar, received working and child-tax credits.

He also said that he earned a gross pay of £91.30 for working 20 hours a week as a shop-floor worker but did not state any other earned income.

The trial heard that on October 10, 2005, Salamat completed another form in which he said he did not work but received £100 every two weeks for taxi rent from June 2, 2005. His case was passed to the council’s benefit fraud unit when it was found he had not declared income received from his position as a Labour councillor.

An investigation found that Salamat held a taxi-driver’s licence from March, 1997, to June, 2005.

During an interview under caution, the father-of-three said he had worked only three or four days as a taxi-driver in December, 2004, when his wife became ill. He also said he was involved in a crash in Lord Street, Oldham, on January 17, 2005.

In two of his interviews Salamat denied driving as a taxi-driver on the day of the crash, but in a police accident police report he said: “I am currently employed as a taxi-driver around the Oldham area and have been now eight months.”

He read and signed the report, written by PC Gareth Greaves, but later claimed that he meant he had worked for eight weeks, not months.

Salamat later claimed that he only worked as a taxi-driver for United Cars for two weeks of Christmas. After his wife became ill, he only used the vehicle for personal use.

Salamat said he believed the allegations against him were all politically motivated.

Greg Kemp, defending, said in reference to Salamat’s signed statement: “You have a piece of paper before you that says Salamat worked for eight months — that can either be correct or incorrect.

“It could have been a mistake as everyone makes mistake.

“My client is a man of good character.

He is being prosecuted on the basis that he is a councillor — that’s the whole policy.

“He is being called a liar, but people can get things wrong.

“He is a good man and his character is being attacked. If you are going to criticise him for getting things wrong he’s not the only one.”

District Judge Duncan Birrel said: “I am satisfied that Salamat did say he worked for eight months in the police statement, so it seems to me that the prosecution has made its case.”

Salamat was ordered to pay a £500 fine, £1,000 costs and £295.76 compensation to Oldham Council



Guilty councillor keeps job

AN Oldham councillor who was found guilty of fraud has kept his job. Labour's Coun Ali Aqeel Salamat was convicted this week of falsely claiming council tax benefits.

The town's magistrates' court heard he failed to notify the council that he worked as a taxi driver while picking up benefits.

But despite the conviction, Salamat, 34, remains in his post on the St Mary's ward. His position means he also acts as a `community champion' and paid a special allowance making him the most senior councillor in the ward.

His escape has sparked fury.

Lib Dem leader Coun Howard Sykes said he could not understand why Salamat had not been sacked.

"There is a whole issue of confidence and integrity here," he said. "I can tell you one thing if he was with the Lib Dems he wouldn't be in my council."

The offences took place between July 2004 and January 2005 when Salamat was with the Lib Dems. They suspended him and reported him to the Standards Board for England but an enquiry yielded insufficient evidence.

Salamat then became an independent candidate. He was elected in May but subsequently switched his allegiance to the Labour party. Labour needed one more seat for an overall majority and the move effectively put his new party in control at the local elections in May.


Coun Sykes described the switch as Labour's `thinly disguised, grubby, distasteful and desperate manoeuvre to keep control of the council'.

At Oldham magistrates' court on Tuesday Salamat was fined £1,000, ordered to pay £500 in costs and £295 back to the council.

He said he had made a `mistake', questioned why he should have to appear in court and added that he was looking forward to carrying on in his post.

"My wife had been ill at this time and I was looking after my three children," he said. "I accept that I may not have given `prompt notification of a change to my circumstances' which affected my entitlement to council tax benefit.

"I cannot understand why they had to take me to court at considerable expense to the council tax payer when I had offered to pay back any overpayment. I hope I can now put this behind me and concentrate on my work for the local community."

A spokesman for the Standards Board for England said they could not investigate as they had not received a further complaint. Oldham Labour party were unavailable for comment.

A councillor can remain in their position if convicted as long as their sentence is less than three months imprisonment.


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