Accountant Hashmukh Shah has pleaded guilty to deliberately providing false information to The Pensions Regulator (TPR) when stating a pension scheme had been set up for staff of a London-based restaurant.
Appearing at Brighton Magistrates' Court yesterday (16 August), Shah admitted to knowingly or recklessly providing false or misleading information to the watchdog, an offence under section 80 of the Pensions Act 2004.
The regulator launched criminal proceedings earlier this month after discovering that, in November 2016, Shah had falsely claimed an automatic enrolment (AE) scheme had been set up for staff members at Gran Caffe Londra.
However, TPR later became concerned AE duties were still not being fulfilled and discovered the submitted declaration of compliance was false. With the employer's staging date of October 2015 having long since passed, the watchdog believed the declaration of compliance had been submitted to avoid an on-site inspection which would have uncovered the illicit activity.
While the restaurant has a high turnover, around 10 to 15 members of staff were eligible for AE. Since TPR's action was launched, the company has fulfilled its AE obligations and backdated contributions.
The prosecution is the regulator's first for a third-party working on behalf of an employer, and Shah faces an unlimited fine which will be set a sentencing hearing on 5 September.
TPR director of AE Darren Ryder said Shah's actions were "totally unacceptable".
"There is no legitimate excuse for such action, which denies staff the savings they deserve for their retirement," he continued. "If a professional files false documents, we will catch up with them and, like in this case, take action against them.
"This prosecution sends a strong message to accountants and advisers tasked with completing an employers' AE duties - if you provide us with false or misleading information, we will take legal action which may leave you with a criminal conviction."
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