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Phoney estate agent jailed after ten-year crime spree

Wednesday 8th December 2010
Written by Rosalind Renshaw
A property fraudster who set up as an estate agent and who eluded police for ten years has finally been jailed after conning more than £20m from his victims.

Dixit Shah, 49, set up over 200 companies, including at least one firm of estate agents, Hilton Properties, and – despite having been a struck-off solicitor – a legal firm employing legitimate solicitors.

He submitted false mortgage applications, lying about incomes and stealing other people’s identities, and by the time he was finally arrested, had 36 buy-to-let properties.

Detective Constable Taz Uddin, who arrested Shah, said that it was not clear how many of the bogus companies actually traded. He said of the properties that there may well have been more at some stage, with some having been repossessed or sold on.

The estate agency, in Harrow, north London, was used to provide rental information required by lenders. The fact that it could be set up at all by someone who, at the time, was being sought by police,  puts the question of licensing back on the agenda.

At least one of Shah’s accomplices, Gaurav Mathur, is still on the run.

Lenders that were conned included Kensington Mortgages, which lent £238,000 in March 2007 on a property in Zangwill Road, Greenwich, south-east London, which was almost £7,000 in arrears at the end of October last year. In this application, Mathur, 38, claimed to be self-employed and have an income of between £93,000 and £95,000.

Shah used the proceeds of his decade-long campaign of crime to fund a career in Bollywood, although his dreams of stardom are now on hold after he was jailed for five and a half years at Southwark Crown Court.

Shah, from Harrow, claimed victims across the UK and Asia, with firms of solicitors, high street banks and foreign students all being targeted.

Shah’s links to the criminal underworld meant many of his victims were reluctant to assist detectives for fear of reprisals against family members.

But his past finally caught up with him this year when, after a six-month investigation by the City of London Police, two patrol officers arrested him outside a Harrow gym.

The fraudster’s business practices first came under suspicion in 1999 when the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) uncovered a £13m deficit in the joint account of a group of solicitors’ firms.

After creating the ‘Brandon Group’ Shah, 49, had put himself in charge of the collective pension funds while working from home.

By the time his partners realised the accounts had been emptied and the financial records deleted, Shah had fled to India, leaving the SRA facing one of the biggest ever payments from its compensation payouts.

Between 2000-2006 Shah ran major credit card frauds across India, Pakistan and Dubai and set up a bogus company offering students the chance to travel to the UK to learn English.

Students were handed visas and promised jobs, but were then forced to return home after finding nothing had been organised for their arrival in the UK.

At the same time Shah was lifting personal details from their application forms to facilitate his crimes. 

Shah then appeared on police radars again, when he was arrested at Dublin Airport after being found in possession of fake passports and credit cards.

Detectives believe he was on his way back to the UK, forced to return after living a life of luxury and blowing his millions on failed Bollywood film productions and property deals.

After jumping bail in Ireland, Shah slipped back into London and started stealing the identities of British and Indian nationals, some of which he used to apply for fraudulent mortgages from high street banks.

His portfolio of properties, worth £9m, included new-build flats and a ten-bedroom mansion in Watford.

Shah’s crime spree continued into 2009, when authorities identified him as the man who had escaped justice ten years before and later returned to the UK via Ireland with a false identity.

The City of London Police investigation revealed how Shah had been working with organised criminal gangs in the UK and India, setting up fake estate agents, solicitors’ firms and private companies to facilitate his frauds.

The estate agency firm, Hilton Properties, was used to furnish lenders with information about rental expectations.

By the end of 2009 detectives suspected Shah was once again looking to leave the country and alerted the ports and airports.

But he was finally caught in Harrow when a pair of patrol officers spotted a Jaguar linked to him driving through the town.

Shah was not in the car, but the driver directed the officers to a nearby house, where the inhabitant pointed them towards a gym where they met and arrested the fraudster.

Searches of his lock-up and several properties uncovered a number of Bollywood scripts, evidence of Shah’s continuing attempts to become a film director.

On the premises officers also found cheque books in 70 different names and banking and property documentation.

While in remand, Shah made numerous attempts at bail, fired four sets of lawyers and attempted to represent himself. Three days into his trial he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud but later unsuccessfully attempted to reverse his plea.

Detective Superintendent Bob Wishart, from the City of London Police Economic Crime Directorate, said: “Over the last ten years, Shah has left a trail of destruction stretching from here to India, with pension fund holders, high street banks, solicitors and foreign students all suffering at his hands.

“Unfortunately for him his criminal successes were not mirrored by his forays into the world of Bollywood, where his delusion led him to lose millions.

“By bringing Shah to justice we have curtailed his career in films, and much more importantly removed a ruthless and calculated fraudster from the streets.”

Police continue to hunt for his accomplice Gaurav Mathur.

(11) Comments

Added by Anna Key on 2010-12-09 11:45:59

I really can't understand why this sort of person who works so hard at fraudulent activities doesn't just put the work into legit activities.
Pity he's not locked up for longer though.
Added by Jonnie on 2010-12-08 21:01:41

Well the VAT man and revenue missed him with 200 companies a few lenders missed him as did the authorities in a few countries as well as the Passport Office here but in fairnes the DVLA records seem to have made his number plate pop up on the screen in a plod car but if it took the best of the Met to nail him by a bit of good luck how on earth can we expect the likes of the magazine and training session salesmen in the form of the NAEA and the like to have had a hope.

This was organised crime on a spectacular and international level not some greasy little shark buying old ladies houses for sod all and selling them to his mates.

In the end he got caught but having a toothless regulatory body wouldn't have sped it up

Jonnie
Added by Nick Griffin on 2010-12-08 19:26:06

disgraceful
Added by Ray Evans - Sheringham on 2010-12-08 13:19:19

To those who advocate 'licensing'
It will NOT work unless it has real TEETH and is ENFORCED - pro-actively.
Look at what most of us pay for now to 'quango' type orgs. saying they will police & discipline - but they do not. Does it work? No. Still costs us an arm and a leg and another similar type will cost us more arms & legs.
Those in the driving seat now should be made to do their job!
Added by James on 2010-12-08 13:19:00

Hmmmm I wonder just how many un-scrupulous agents have used their client account to help them through these tough times, never mind to intentionally set out to deceive like this man.

There seems to little or no auditing to protect the public from people like this.

Thankfully, the vast majority of agents are good people trying to earn an honest living.

Good to see another crook behind bars.
Added by Paul on 2010-12-08 12:17:02

Our laws have no teeth and I have voiced this for years in particular for this business. The discipline procedure is non existant and as HD says he will be at it allover again when he is out and nobody can do zip about it.

This is just reward for a faulty system and we in this profession gets the brunt of jibes.

Its about time we started slinging the mud at some others like solicitors who lie (they dont do they?) lenders who dont lend and surveyors who cant survey properly.

Any other suggestions?
Added by Gareth House on 2010-12-08 11:36:02

Its not a very severe sentence really is it, the guy will be out in 2 years and will continue to re-offend.
I am all for licensing, but this will never stamp out criminals. Plus if some form of licensing is brought in, who within these companies will enforce regulations if people are being naughty.
We have clearly seen TDS at the moment can't cope and how many companies are there out their on Rightmove who don't conform with Rightmove membership guidlines.
Added by Willesden Boy on 2010-12-08 10:59:23

How many more people like this out there who haven't been caught yet? We all have to subscribe to the 'Professional' bodies and associations, well the decent amongst us do anyway, but why all these rules and regulations with no efficient Policing or enforcement. Still any Tom, Dick or Shah in this case can just set up as an letting agent or estate agent just like that an when will it stop? LICENSING now! This will definitely cleanse the industry of a majority of miscreants and fools decent agents across the UK have to deal with on a daily basis! Rant over, I'll go back to my Daily Mail now........
Added by Ray Evans - Sheringham on 2010-12-08 10:11:04

This just proves how inefficient our myriad of expensive law and fraud enforcement organisations and systems are.
How about having a few more - like licensing etc.
That will sort it will it not? Like NO!
Added by Rebel on 2010-12-08 09:55:53

It's just not cricket....or is it?
Added by beakerbob on 2010-12-08 09:29:36

I am sure we can find him a job when he gets out.

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