Birmingham Trading Standards’ successful Operation Egyptian investigation was featured in a BBC programme earlier this month. Defenders UK, which was broadcast on September 2, highlighted the inspiring work conducted by the trading standards team, which resulted in the prosecution of three people who defrauded vulnerable consumers of thousands of pounds.
Operation Egyptian began from a single tip-off and escalated into a full-scale case involving conspiracy and fraud. The determination and tenacity of Birmingham Trading Standards’ team was finally rewarded after a three-year operation which tracked suspects across the UK and resulted in significant prison sentences.
Ibrar Hussain, Sabhia Shaheen and Mohammed Afsar were jailed in November 2018 for a total of 14 years for falsely claiming that sets of bangles they manufactured and sold were made of higher quality gold than was actually the case.
They passed the bangles off as 22 carat gold 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 the items, which upon being tested by the Birmingham Assay Office, 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 at the defendants’ premises, 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 £1m 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.
The lengthy Operation Egyptian investigation 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.
Councillor Barbara Dring, Chair of Birmingham City Council’s Licensing and Public Protection Committee, said at the time of the prosecution: “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.”
Operation Egyptian demonstrated only too clearly how vulnerable consumers are to criminals who set out to defraud them when selling precious metals. With gold prices at an all-time high the potential is greater than ever.
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