A FORMER magistrate dishonestly claimed more than £23,000 in benefits.
Ex-Pendle councillor, Rahmat Ali Raja, 75, received pension credits and council tax reductions for 10 years – despite, at one point, having more than £102,000 across nine bank accounts.
The retired charity director was handed a 24-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, yesterday.
Speaking after the hearing, Raja, who received an MBE in 2005, said: “I am very sorry. I made a mistake.”
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Between October 2003 and September 2013, Raja, of Wilkinson Street, Nelson, told the Department for Work and Pensions he was retired and had just £5,601 in savings, wrongly claiming £11,379 in the process.
He also failed to declare his real savings to Pendle Council in November 2004, allowing him to wrongly claim £11,898 between October 2003 and March 2013.
Raja, who has already paid the amounts back in full, pleaded guilty to two counts of dishonestly failing to disclose information to make a gain for self, and one count of dishonestly making a false statement to obtain a benefit.
John Abbott, prosecuting, told Preston Magistrates’ Court how Raja would receive the payments into his Halifax bank account via automatic credit transfer.
He said: “Evidence has now become available that he had £83,000 on October 6, 2003 which was not disclosed at the time. Had the true facts been known, there would have been an effect on his benefits.”
In 2009, Raja claimed he only had one bank account, which he shared with his wife.
But Mr Abbott said: “He had nine other accounts in his and his wife’s names and agrees they were there when he made the original claims for pension credit. He denied acting dishonestly and said he made a mistake."
John Wishart, defending, said: “First of all, the guidelines make it clear that a large sum of money can be accumulated over a long period of time, as in this case.
“Of considerable mitigation is that the money was instantly repaid in full. The final payment was made in September last year.”
He added that the ‘highest recorded amount’ in Raja’s savings at any one time was ‘a little over £102,000’, but that although these accounts were in his name, they were shared by many members of Raja’s family.
Sparing Raja jail, chairman of the bench, Kathleen Strickland, said his offences had been ‘aggravated by the fact you committed the fraud from the outset.’ However she said Raja’s age, early guilty plea, full repayment and ill health all prevented her from handing out an immediate custodial sentence.
As well as his suspended jail sentence, which could be activated it he re-offends within 12 months, Raja must pay court costs of £85 and a £75 victim surcharge.
Mrs Strickland said: “If you break this condition it could be very serious for you.”
Raja, a former director of Ithaad Community Development Trust, based in Cross Street, Nelson, received an MBE for services to the community in Pendle in 2005.
Speaking after the case, he said: “I am very sorry. I made a mistake. All along I have said it’s my family’s money and my children’s money.
“I filled out the forms but I did them wrong. My memory is not good and I am sorry.”