Two jailed for £50m mortgage fraud

Two men at Southwark Crown Court have been sentenced to a total of 20 years imprisonment after admitting their role in a £50m deception committed against Cheshire Building Society, the Bank of Ireland, Société Générale and Nationwide Building Society.

Saghir Ahmed Afzal from Birmingham was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment. He pleaded guilty on 17 January 2011 to two counts of conspiracy to obtain money transfers by deception and four counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception.

Ian McGarry a chartered surveyor from Hertfordshire was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. He pleaded guilty on 24 September 2010 to two counts of conspiracy to obtain money transfers by deception and four counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception.

The case came to the attention of West Midlands Police following an anonymous tip off from a member of the public who reported their suspicions about the sale of a property to the Cheshire Building Society. Due to the scale and complexity of the case, WMP referred the case to the Serious Fraud Office and the SFO began an investigation in March 2006.

During the course of the investigation over 40 residential and commercial premises in Birmingham, Berkshire and London were searched by officers of the SFO and WMP.

The SFO’s enquiries revealed that in addition to the Cheshire Building Society, the Bank of Ireland, Société Générale and the Nationwide Building Society had also been defrauded.

The ringleaders were Saghir Ahmed Afzal and his brother Nisar who recruited a dishonest surveyor, Ian McGarry, to produce false valuations based on fictitious leases.

The valuations were used to support fraudulent mortgage applications on six commercial properties. Companies controlled by the Afzals bought the properties from genuine sellers for a total of £5,688,125. This figure represented the true market value of the properties. However, using McGarry’s false valuations the Afzals were able to deceive lenders to loan £49,287,000 which represents a mortgage loan to value ratio of 866%.

The way the fraud worked was similar in each case. A company controlled by the Afzal brothers bought a property, usually an old industrial building in a dilapidated state, from a genuine seller.

The property was then bought and sold a number of times over a short period of time, each time for an apparently higher price.

The only money that the Afzals paid out was for the initial purchase. This meant that when the final purchase of each property was completed the Afzals obtained a huge “profit” by virtue of receiving the fraudulent mortgage loans. After making one or two early mortgage payments, the companies controlled by the Afzals stopped paying the mortgage and the Afzals disappeared with all the money.

This left the lenders to try to recover their losses by selling the properties following repossession. It was then that the lenders discovered that the properties were worth only a fraction of what they had leant, in some cases as little as 10% of the monies advanced.

The applications for mortgages were supported by fake documents, including forged identification documentation, false leases and fraudulently inflated property valuations.

The Afzals used fake leases to create the impression that the properties were occupied by good corporate tenants paying high rents. These fake leases then gave the illusion that the owner of the property could expect a good income from which to meet the mortgage re-payments.

The fraudsters used the names of genuine companies as tenants on the fake leases, but in reality these companies were totally unaware of the leases.

McGarry accepted bribes from the Afzal brothers totalling over £1m, including lavish overseas holidays in Dubai, an Aston Martin car, cash in brown paper envelops and the purchase of three properties in London.  

In return he prepared inflated valuations for each property which the lenders relied on when advancing the mortgages. In one instance McGarry valued a property at £19m that had been purchased for just £1m. This represents an overvaluation of 1800%.  In another instance, McGarry produced three difference valuations of the same property, on the same day, for three separate financial institutions.