Ibrar Hussain, 38, and Sabhia Shaheen, 40, of Shiza Jewellers, based at 681 Stratford Road, together with 47-year-old Mohammed Afsar, known as Malik, of Zaiver Jewellers, at 787 Stratford Road, hatched a plan to manufacture and pass off low quality gold bangles as 22 carat by infilling them with silver copper and other alloys and applying a heavy gold plate to finish. By doing this they were able to increase their profits per set of bangles by as much as £1,200.
Birmingham Trading Standards officers carried out test purchases of gold bangle sets described as 22 carat at both jewellers – but when tested by the Birmingham Assay Office, the bangles were found to be of low-quality gold and in some cases could only be hallmarked at no more than 14 carat.
As a consequence, raids were carried out by Birmingham Trading Standards at both jewellers, where workshops manufacturing the bangles were found. The scam had been in operation for more than five years and it is thought that all three profited by as much as £1 million over that period.
Officers also searched two residential premises in Handsworth and Bearwood where secret workshops had been set up to manufacture the fake gold bangles on an industrial scale. Evidence provided by Birmingham Assay Office confirmed that the workshops were being used to manufacture the bangles found during the test purchases.
Codenamed Operation Egyptian, a lengthy investigation was carried out into the scam by officers from Trading Standards which culminated in Hussain eventually being arrested after he was found hiding within an ottoman storage bed.
All three were found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation following a trial at Birmingham Crown Court, which heard that Hussain, identified as the ringleader, would travel across the country selling the fake bangles to other unsuspecting jewellers, as well as via eBay.
Additionally, Hussain was also found guilty of three counts of intimidating prosecution witnesses with threats of violence to them or their families, while Afsar was also found guilty of blackmail for coercing one of the witnesses to work for him without pay under the threat of violence to his family.
Hussain was jailed for five years for conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, plus 12 months for two of the witness intimidation offences and a further 12 months for the third witness intimidation offence. The sentences will run consecutively, meaning Hussain was jailed for a total of seven years.
Shaheen was jailed for three years for conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and disqualified from being a director for seven years.
Afsar was jailed for four years for conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and four years for the blackmail offence, to run concurrently.
Councillor Barbara Dring, Chair of Birmingham City Council’s Licensing and Public Protection Committee, said: “This was a particularly complex case with the defendants spinning a web of lies to deceive unsuspecting consumers and other retailers into thinking these bangles were much higher quality than they actually were.
“It is only through the tireless work and dedication of Trading Standards officers that we have been able to bring the culprits to justice.
“I hope these sentences will send out a strong message that such unscrupulous behaviour will not be tolerated in Birmingham, where the jewellery trade quite rightly enjoys an excellent reputation, both nationally and internationally. Where we are made aware of such illegal activities taking place, we will not hesitate to take action.”