Jailed: Lawyer and ex-Tower Hamlets councillor for housing fraud he ran for 5 years
PUBLISHED: 17:00 15 November 2019 | UPDATED: 17:24 15 November 2019
A solicitor and former Tower Hamlets councillor has been jailed for a seven-year housing fraud in which he bought two properties while illegally sub-letting his council house.
Muhammad Harun, a practicing lawyer operating from Dalston, purchased properties in Shadwell and Barking while holding a council tenancy at Grundy Street in Poplar and pretending to live there.
The disgraced former councillor who quit just seven months after being elected in the 2018 Labour landslide said in an exclusive interview with the East London Advertiser at the time that he was "innocent of allegations" against him and would clear his name.
But he pleaded guilty on two fraud charges when he appeared before Thames magistrates on September 26.
Harun was in the dock again at Snaresbrook Crown Court yesterday (November 14) where he was sentenced to 16 months behind bars.
The length of time in which the frauds were committed with false declarations warranted a jail sentence, Judge Sanders said.
"You made hundreds of bids for social housing," the judge told him. "Yet you were a beneficiary of accommodation you were not entitled to."
The judge also slapped an order on Harun to pay nearly £125,000 compensation to the housing authority for providing years of temporary accommodation that could have been used for a genuinely homeless family.
Harun, elected for Poplar's prestigious Lansbury ward, stepped down last December when the investigation was first ordered into properties he purchased at Solander Gardens in Shadwell and at Lancaster Avenue in Barking, while sub-letting his council house at Grundy Street which he claimed was his home address when he was elected.
Harun was a solicitor at Duncan Lewis law firm in Dalston, specialising in immigration and public law who supervised a team of solicitors and caseworkers representing "the most vulnerable in society".
He told the Advertiser at the time the scandal broke: "I will fully respond to the allegations and will clear my name.
"But I thought it best to step down and let others take over. It's not wise or prudent for me to continue, but will devote all my energies into the investigation."
His fall from grace came after a brief seven-month meteoric political career in which he chaired the council's pensions committee which oversees £1.5 billion investments, was vice chair of the audit committee—and was on its housing scrutiny committee which ironically oversees fraud issues.
The council began its investigation after a tip-off last December about his property wealth and having failed to disclose relevant information in his numerous applications for housing or when elected a councillor.
Mayor John Biggs said at the time: "Residents expect the highest standards from councillors who are here to serve the community."
The Solicitors' Regulation Authority began its own investigation into Harun's affairs a week later.
Harun first made an application for council housing in January, 2006, when he was evicted from his mother's property at Solander Gardens.
He went into temporary accommodation for the next four years, before being given a permanent three-bedroom house at Grundy Street in 2010 for his family which he held onto for seven years.
Meanwhile, he had enough money to buy the two properties, the first in Shadwell in August 2013, then his terraced family cottage at Lancaster Avenue in Barking in 2017, while all the time illegally sub-letting his Grundy Street council house.
Chief executive Will Tuckley said after Harun was sentenced: "This sends a clear message that you cannot get away with fraud and deprive a homeless family of a secure home.
"We have 20,000 families on our waiting list. Knowingly taking away such a precious resource is illegal and unforgiveable."
At no time did Harun tell the council that he had bought properties nor disclose his change of circumstances.
He would not have been eligible for social housing the moment he purchased his first property. But the council was kept in the dark.
The social housing Harun and his family benefited from would have been given to a genuinely homeless family.