A CROOKED Pendle solicitor who worked on the Harold Shipman inquiry faces up to five years behind bars for nobbling witnesses in a Crown Court trial to get his client off £310,000 fraud charges.
Criminal solicitor Majed Iqbal abused his position of trust as a lawyer by flying around the world to pay off witnesses for firms who had been ripped off by a Duracell energy drink scam.
But he was caught when he flew back to Manchester Airport days before the trial with a video clip of him negotiating bribes on a memory stick. He had copies of retraction statements on his laptop.
Iqbal had even tried to claim legal aid for his foreign journeys. He attempted to cover up the scam claiming client legal privilege meant the police could not look at his computer. Four victims were systematically repaid £133,000 and signed retraction statements to drop their police complaints. It coincided with Iqbal and his client Yasar Hussain flying out to see them.
Iqbal (32),of Elizabeth Street, Nelson, was found guilty of conspiracy to pervert the court of justice after a seven-week trial at Hull Crown Court. He will be sentenced tomorrow (Friday).
The father-of-two represented Bradford nightclub entrepreneur Mr Hussain who took a string of rich Middle Eastern businessmen for a ride selling the international rights to market Duracell energy drinks to five firms based in Dubai, Hong Kong, Hungary and Iran. It only existed in the form of 8,000 dummy cans.
So convincing was the performance of Mr Hussain (31), he had hordes of customers around their stand at the drink’s bogus launch in the World Trade Centre, Dubai.
It was like a real life scene from the BBC’s “Hustle” programme. They invested in an elaborate plan, wore fine suits and talked money before deals were clinched in luxury restaurants and hotel rooms.
Confident they were on their way to huge riches, they celebrated with a smiling picture on a mobile phone in the exhibition taken by Zameer Hussain. By day Yassar Hussain played the long-fraud game. By night they partied hard in a Dubai nightclub and Shisha bar until 4am. Yasar Hussain, drove a £120,000 Audi R8. The family was spending thousands on restoring their mansion and refitting the Pasha Shisha club in Preston. Zameer Hussain drove a £75,000 Audi RS5 and holidayed on a private yacht in Dubai. He was able to draw £30,000 out in a single transaction.
Privately, they boasted of becoming the talk of Bradford as the inventors of the Duracell energy drink to rival Red Bull and make their fortune. They had no need for worry as the family had a takeaway, two Shisha clubs, drinks firm and accident claims business. But they were always on the look out to make more money.
The mastermind, Yasar Hussain has gone on the run from the family’s Victorian home in Manningham, Bradford, after hearing the overwhelming evidence against him. The councillor’s son faked sickness and slipped police at court on the first day of his trial. Like an illusionist he has never been seen again and is thought to be fled overseas. The police have searched homes and have issued an all-ports alert for his arrest, but he has been on the run for 45 days. He was found guilty of fraud and conspired to pervert the course of justice in his absence.
Iqbal was arrested at Manchester Airport carrying a video clip of him administering a bribe. In total £133,000 was paid to four witnesses in an effort to nobble a crown court trial.
The highly-skilled enterprise targeted the world’s mega-rich drink industry and was penned by Yasar Hussain. He had experience with his own soft drink brand Water Joe. He approached Procter and Gamble, the owners of Duracell, with the idea to sell an energy drink in 2006. They said no. But Hussain was greedy and knew he could make his fortune.
Crucial to the fraud was a forged letter, found in his car, saying Procter and Gamble had granted the world rights for the energy drink to Duracell Co Ltd. Yassar set himself up as a director by registering the name at Companies House.
Crown barrister Mark McKone said: “The prosecution accepts the defendants had a great business idea, but they knew it could never have been genuine. Their applications for DTI funding were turned down, their trade marks were struck off. But when they knew it could not be run legitimately, they could not bear the thought of giving up vast profits and agreed to mislead people.”
Yasar Hussain launched a website Duracelenergy.com, printed letter heads and business cards and opened virtual offices in London and Leeds.
To give the fraud credibility, he set up links with a Dutch brewing factory and ordered 8,000 cans with the distinctive copper battery look of the Duracell label.
It became the talk of Bradford, as the brothers began showing the cans to friends. They even had the audacity to apply for two grants from the Department of Trade and Industry for £35,000 to pay for the exhibition. They were refused. The con came together by launching the drink at the three-day food trade fair in the World Trade Centre in Dubai in Feburary, 2009.
They had one of the largest stands with free cans. Yasar and Zameer Hussain signed in as employees of Duracell. They even wore badges as international sales director and sales assistant. Customers in Dubai, Hong Kong, Hungary and Iran paid a total of £312,000 for exclusive international rights to sell the drink which only existed as dummy cans. They were lured by promises of a millon euro world advertising budget, 240 free mini fridges and merchandising if they paid up front.
Yasar Hussain set up a Nat West Bank account in the Duracell name. Money began to be transferred. Around £300,000 was quickly withdrawn between May and August in 14 cheques in untraceable cash including one for £75,000. By August, 2009 when the family were £300,000 richer the website and telephone lines were closed down. Angry customers were fobbed off with tales of a Duracell staffing crisis. One flew to England only to find an empty office in Leeds.
The police were able to trace the con back to the family who refused to give samples of handwriting. However their passports showed trips to Dubai and cans of the Duracell drink were found in the glove box of his Audi R8.
The police were tipped off that btheir witnesses were being paid off. But they never expected to stumble on real-life video clips of bribes on Iqbal’s laptop. They had gone to the length of getting victims to sign retraction statements promising not to attend court and videotaping negotiations in Dubai hotel rooms.
Mr McKone said: “Whenever a retraction statement was made abroad, Yasar Hussain and Iqbal were in the country where the retraction statement was made; every single time. Three dates in Dubai and one in Hungary. The defendants exploited their victims’ wish to get money back telling them there was no Duracell company any more and the deal not to go to court was the only way to get their money back.”
Yasar Hussain was convicted of 13 counts of money laundering and perverting the course of justice. The jury found Zameer Hussain, 28, of Moorland Close, Dewsbury, not guilty of conspiracy to commit the main fraud