A Perth man who defrauded Centrelink of more than $110,000 while running a multi-million-dollar shopping trolley collection business has been sentenced to three years’ jail.
Ali Ayad, 49, received Newstart payments and carer allowance between May 2010 and December 2017 while he was operating the business, which had a turnover of almost $3.6 million.
The District Court was told most of the defrauded money was used to fund Ayad’s gambling and drinking problems, but he also made four trips to the Philippines where he bought property.
He was required to tell the Department of Human Services about any income he received, but he failed to do so.
At one point Ayad completed a form on which he had answered “no” to the question: “Do you undertake any paid voluntary work, study or training?”
On another occasion he declared an income of only $8,000.
The court heard when he was interviewed by authorities he said he knew he should have told the department what he was earning and he was surprised it took so long to get caught.
Fleeing torture in Iraq
Ayad’s lawyer, Gavin MacLean, said his client came to Australia in 2004 as a refugee after fleeing political persecution in Iraq, where he spent time in prison and was tortured.
Mr MacLean said when Ayad arrived in Australia he received Centrelink payments and accommodation, for which he was “grateful”, but he then also started doing work for cash.
He said Ayad started up his own business after his son became ill and he had five or six people working for him who were paid in cash.
Because of the business’s expenses, Mr MacLean said Ayad did not receive “anything like” the millions of dollars it turned over.
Prosecutors submitted that Ayad was motivated by “greed rather than need”, noting that he failed to keep any proper business records.
Fraud ‘breathtaking in its greed’
Judge Alan Troy described the turnover of the business as “an extraordinarily large amount of money, particularly for a person who was defrauding Centrelink”.
“To continue to look to Centrelink for payment — Centrelink being there to accept the most needy in our society — when you were running a $3.5 million business … is breathtaking in its greed,” he said.
“It is very regrettable that having had the enormous privilege to be accepted into this country as a refugee, you repaid the generosity shown by this country by defrauding the most vulnerable in this country.”
Judge Troy took into account that Ayad had entered pleas of guilty to the two charges against him and that he was remorseful for what he had done, but he said a term of imprisonment was necessary.
Ayad will have to serve 18 months in jail before he will be eligible for release.