No jail for benefits cheat - due to prison cost
A BENEFITS cheat has been spared jail – because the cost of locking him up for a year would be the same as the amount he swindled.
Karmal Mustafa dishonestly claimed £38,856.50 of income support, council tax and housing benefit while working over a seven-year period.
But Judge Carol Hagen told Bristol Crown Court: "£39,000 is what it costs to keep one man in prison for a year. Do I wish to burden the state further with another £38,000 to £40,000, much as I think it is deserved?"
Instead the judge handed Mustafa a 24-week suspended sentence, ordered him to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work and pay £250 costs.
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The court heard 29-year-old Mustafa was using his dual income to support two families – one in his native Somalia and one in Bristol.
He told investigators the money he was sending overseas helped support his sick father – but told his barrister his father and mother had both been killed in front of his eyes in Somalia 14 years ago.
Simon Emslie, prosecuting, said Mustafa, of Lansdowne Court, Easton, fraudulently obtained £25,676.20 in income support between 2004 and last year.
He said that over the same time, Mustafa pocketed £10,297.49 in housing benefit and £2.882.81 in council tax benefit.
The court heard the benefits were claimed on the basis Mustafa was unfit to work, but he had actually had a job. He managed to evade detection because of inadequate employers' records and by giving different addresses, bank account and national insurance numbers, Mr Emslie said.
Mustafa told the Department for Work and Pensions he had worked since 2004 and he did not inform them because he was regularly sending £800 to £1,000 to Somalia to support his family, including his father, who had cancer.
The court heard he had paid back £200 in income support and £520 in council tax benefit.
Judge Hagen asked Paul Cook, defending: "If he was sending £800 to £1,000 to Somalia, why is he not paying that to the Department for Work and Pensions?"
Mr Cook said his client had only been able to do that because he was living off his fraudulent benefits, and sending his earnings out of the UK.
Mr Cook described Mustafa's early life in Somalia as "hell", and said he had seen his mother and father killed when he was aged 15, and seen his brothers and sisters killed a year later.
The court heard that in 2005 Mustafa married a girl from his village, who gave birth to twins who both died – one of them three days before the hearing.
Mustafa now has two children and one on the way with another woman, who came to the UK in 2007, does not speak English and is "utterly dependant" on him, Mr Cook said.
Judge Hagen asked: "Why is it that a man facing serious criminal charges embarks on a third child? It seems seriously irresponsible."
Mr Cook said: "He only intended one child." The judge replied: "He's a grown man. He can take his own preventative measures."