sohail ashraf

A judge has slammed how ‘easy’ it is to take advantage of the benefits system after a drug dealer scrounged £21,000 in benefits and used the money to buy a house.

Jobless Iftikhar Sarwar, from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, illegally pocketed child tax credits by falsely claiming he was the sole carer for his 15-year old daughter when she was in fact living with her aunt.

The 39-year-old later fled the UK after being arrested for drug dealing and went on the run for more than three years before he was eventually detained in Italy.

Jailing Sarwar for five years at Minshull Crown Court in Manchester on Tuesday, Judge Angela Nield criticised those who take advantage of the welfare system.

She said: ‘You fraudulently obtained tax credits, an offence made relatively easy by the fact the system of benefits in this country has largely been based on the honesty of those who claim against it.

‘If an individual chose to be dishonest against the system, which is vulnerable to the lies they tell, it is expensive to pursue an investigation into the enquiry.’

The judge also heard how Sarwar laundered the benefit cash and drug money he made from peddling heroin and crack cocaine to purchase a house with a friend.

She continued: ‘In your case you stated you were responsible for your daughter, who at the time you claimed tax credit for, when she was residing with her aunt.

‘But by these lies you secured benefit to which you were not entitled to do so for a period of 151 weeks and you received payment of just over £21,000.

‘You also have a conviction for money laundering. You were seen to be manipulating the system which relies on the honesty on those who avail themselves to it.

‘You concealed some of the money by conspiring with another to purchase a property in his name, but that money was laundered.

‘This offending all seems to stem from your issues with drugs.’

The court heard the offences took place between 2011 and 2014 after Sarwar’s daughter moved in with her aunt in 2008 following his conviction for a previous drug dealing matter.

Miss Hayley Bennett prosecuting said: ‘The defendant claimed child tax credit for 168 weeks and working tax credit for 151 weeks between 2011 and 2014.

‘The defendant maintained he was the primary carer for his daughter with tax credits and also claimed he was working 16 hours per week, but an investigation into these matters proved these claims to be false.

‘The defendants daughter had been in full care of her Auntie from 2009 after residing with her from 2008.

‘The defendant was interviewed about these matters and maintained he was correct and the information he provided was correct but he then absconded before he was charged.’

She added: ‘Regarding the drugs offences, on January 23, 2014 the defendant’s car was spotted by three officers.

‘He was seen to get out of the vehicle and went down a narrow pathway followed by the officers in an unmarked vehicle.

‘They saw the defendant approaching a corner and headed towards a BMW. When he spotted the officers, he naturally changed direction and proceeded in the direction of the business park.

‘A police officer alerted himself to the defendant and said he was a police officer and told him to stop and said he wished to speak to him.

‘The defendant did not speak, but he began to run down the pathway. He produced his phone from his pocket as he ran, but officers caught up to him and he was arrested and restrained.

‘A number of phones were discovered and a BMW car key was discovered to have dropped from his pocket whilst he was being apprehended. The vehicle was also searched.

‘In the ash tray there was a white plastic bag containing seven wraps of diamorphine and crack cocaine. The defendant was arrested and taken to custody.

‘One of the phones taken from him was ringing constantly. Examination of the phones showed regular dealing under the name ‘Clyde’. He was even drug dealing on the day of his arrest.’

The court heard Sarwar and another man transferred the dirty money between bank accounts to help secure a mortgage on an £80,000 house.

He disappeared in August 2015 but was arrested in November last year after he gave himself up to the Italian authorities.

Sarwar pleaded guilty to possessing heroin and cocaine with intent to supply, converting criminal property, benefit fraud and a bail act offence.

The court heard he had previous convictions for possessing fake insurance documents with intent to deceive and a 2008 conviction for possessing drugs with intent to supply class A drugs for which he received 16 weeks custody.

In mitigation, his defence lawyer Michael Johnson said: ‘The defendant is 39 years old. Before he fled the jurisdiction, he had significant problems with a class A drug addiction, which unsurprisingly makes up the most serious of offending.

‘He has a 15 year old daughter who lives with family in Rochdale. He has regular contact with her now he is in prison and he intends to build that relationship.

‘For a time in Europe he lived nomadically before he settled in Italy where he worked. He has addressed his drug misuse and he did not continue with offending.

‘While he was in custody he completed a drug awareness course and he has worked whilst in prison.

‘The Italian authorities told him he was bonkers for surrendering. But he wanted to come back to being these matters to an end. This was not highly sophisticated offending.’