Guilty letting agent ordered to pay over £300,000 or go to jail

A letting agent in one of the most notorious cases of recent times will have to pay over £300,000 after swindling tenants and landlords.



Zulfiqar Hussain, 44, operated Charles Lawson Lettings in Cowley Road, East Oxford, and conned clients – many of whom were students – out of thousands of pounds between 2007 and 2009.



He walked free from court after being given a nine-month jail term, suspended for two years, at Oxford Crown Court. However, if he does not repay his victims in full within six months, he could face three years in jail. He must also complete 40 hours of unpaid work.



In total, he was ordered to £309,303 – £8,167 in compensation, £51,136 costs and a further £250,000 under the Proceeds of Crime Act.



According to the local newspaper, the money is likely to be taken from the sale of Hussain’s £1.2m property portfolio.



Prosecuting on behalf of Oxfordshire Trading Standards, which had received 60 complaints, Robert Courts said Hussain failed to ring-fence tenants’ deposits, let properties without the authority of their owners and did not pass on rent.



He said the majority of victims were students who put down large deposits and paid administration fees, but found that the firm had gone out of business before they could move in.



Hussain also illegally took money out of the business for his own use. The initial charge put this amount at £157,000, but this figure was reduced to ‘not less than £33,000’ on the agreement of both the prosecution and defence.



Hussain last September admitted seven counts of engaging in an unfair commercial practice and one charge of money laundering.

 

Ecky Tiwana, defending, said his client was very remorseful. He had tried to expand too quickly and got into financial difficulty when the recession struck. He said it was agreed that Hussain had benefited by £250,000 through illegal practices.



Recorder Peter Lodder told Hussain: “You chose to use other people’s money. In my judgement that means these offences merit a custodial sentence. However, I accept you did not set out to behave in a fraudulent fashion and I think it’s significant that all who have lost out through what you did will be reimbursed.”

 

Hussain was director of two firms in Oxford, Charles Lawson which became Charles Lawson Lettings which was wound up in January 2010, and James C Penny which went into liquidation in 2010 owing £400,000.



It was the offices of Charles Lawson Lettings and James C Penny which were the subject of early morning raids by police and trading standards as the investigation got under way in November 2009.



 Other firms which are still operating are James C Penny (Lettings) and James C Penny (Estate Agents), which are NAEA members.



Penny & Sinclair has no connection with any of the above, and also continues to trade.



Complaints about Hussain were made to NFoPP after local agents said that he had displayed various logos in his window. It is understood that the organisation took legal advice but could not act.



Richard Webb, acting head of Oxfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service, said: “Mr Hussain’s business practices caused a lot of distress and loss for tenants and landlords in Oxfordshire.



“He was in a position of trust, receiving and managing money on behalf of others and he abused this trust. We are pleased with the result and in particular the confiscation order which will ensure he has not profited from the practices which caused so much harm for others.”



Councillor Judith Heathcoat, Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for safer and stronger communities, added: “The lettings market in Oxfordshire is very significant and is important to many people.



“It is vital that people can trust those providing services which they need and Trading Standards will continue to take strong action against those who cause harm to consumers.



“This outcome also reflects the new approach being taken to recovering the proceeds of crime where possible. The circumstances of this case show how important it is that people should not profit from their crimes.”

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