In October 2008 an ex-Authorised Examiner was convicted of the biggest ever MOT fraud at Leeds Crown Court following a joint operation by VOSA and the West Yorkshire Police. This incredible story spans over a decade and includes identity theft, Testing absent vehicles and numerous changes of AEs as one after the other had their authorisation removed from the same business.
Roobik Mirzabegi, once a bodyguard to the ex-Shah of Iran, was originally involved in MOT Testing in 1992 at a site in Middleton, Leeds. But his authorisation was withdrawn in 1996; soon afterwards, an ex-employee became the AE and, as VOSA have noted “The site was continually subject to complaint and was withdrawn and another “Phoenix” application was submitted.”
The ‘Phoenix’ Effect
This is when an AE has is withdrawn, and soon after the VTS has another AE who, who is legally unconnected with the ‘banned’ person, may nevertheless be a close friend or relative – in effect the same VTS arising like a phoenix from the ‘ashes’ of the first…
In early 2000 Mirzabegi, having served his 5 year withdrawal of authority, again became the AE. On finding after an investigation that he had become bankrupt, VOSA again withdrew his authorisation (as it had been issued to him as a ‘sole trader’), on 25th August 2000. An important point here is that such a withdrawal is effectively one of so called ‘strict liability’ in law. The withdrawal becomes effective at the moment that bankruptcy occurs. What this means is that in theory any vehicles Tested after the moment of bankruptcy are being ‘Tested’ unlawfully – which, of course can easily happen if the business is still open and operating and the staff are unaware of the bankrupt nature of the owner – although in this case VOSA did not act against Mirzabegi’s NTs as they weren’t culpable, being unaware of the bankruptcy.
In the meantime 200 Test Certificates were in the post on their way to the VTS. These were signed in the name of Mirzabegi, but he claimed never to have seen them. Very suspicious, and also concerned that 200 blank MOT pass certificates were in circulation, VOSA informed the police. To the frustration of SVE concerned, Mark Millard, the police refused to take any action, because, they said, the certificates were addressed to Mirzabegi, who had not registered a complaint.
More Testing Stations
In 1996, the year of Mirzabegi’s first withdrawal, VOSA received an application for another Testing Station at Hunslet in Leeds – the AE was Hakop Mirzabaigian, who, despite the difference in name, is Roobik Mirzabegi’s brother. Hakop Mirzabaigian’s authority was withdrawn in 1998. VOSA state that “…this site was subject to numerous complaints and AEs were continually withdrawn – Phoenix AEs were set up over the period, generally being ex-Testers of the previous authorisation.”
They also report that yet another Testing Station was opened, by an ex-employee of both brothers, at Beeston in Leeds in May 1999. According to VOSA “Since 1992 a total of 14 sites were authorised which resulted in 8 AEs being withdrawn and 11 Testers being suspended for unsatisfactory Testing standards.”
Fraud and identity theft
Another aspect of this case was the use of identity fraud with one Tester named ‘Shane Hall’ having a smart card and carrying out MOT Testing – but Shane Hall had died in 2004, before computerisation was activated! It seems that a man named Michael Jackson was purporting to be Hall.
As quoted in the Yorkshire Post after the trial, police Detective Sergeant Mark Bray said of Roobik Mirzabegi, “Roobik, being the greedy individual that he is, decided that instead of replacing his nominated Tester properly, (after Shane Hall had died) he would falsify applications to get one of his acquaintances in”, adding “Michael Jackson had previous convictions, but he stepped into Hall’s shoes and posed as the dead man”. This all emerged following a joint VOSA/Police raid in 2005, but before then many others issues, at further new MOT sites arose. In one instance, whilst Mirzabegi had lost his MOT Authorisation he was still quite legitimately involved in the VTS as a Director of the Company holding the lease.
Even after he had passed his lease on to a third party VOSA found him at a VTS – his reason for being there was, it seems ‘legitimate’, he said he was there as a formal representative of the new landlord. Four Testing Stations were found to be involved in the scam ultimately uncovered and VOSA discovered another two imposters with MOT smart cards who, whilst not Testers themselves, were using smart cards in the name of other people who had in the past been Testers.
Evidently pleased with the outcome, VOSA issued the following press release:
Garage owner guilty of biggest ever MOT fraud
A garage owner was found guilty of three counts of conspiracy to defraud at Leeds Crown Court on Wednesday 8 October, after an investigation by the Vehicle Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and West Yorkshire Police.
Other issues also arose. Complaints were received by VOSA from AEs of some of the VTS concerned about the behaviour of the local VE. In response VOSA’s Mark Millard withdrew that VE, and afterwards ensured that any visits to the VTSs concerned were carried out by two VEs. It was also noted that motorists lodging appeals against pass certificates issued by some of the Testing Stations involved found that their vehicles mysteriously caught fire outside their homes before VOSA could inspect them.
The police ‘intelligence’ computer
It was only through liaison with the the VOSA intelligence Unit and other Agencies Intelligence systems which included the police, that VOSA discovered the initial conspiracy to defraud when it was found that Shane Hall had died and a smart card had been issued in his name but with the photograph of an imposter. Further intelligence was gathered and entered onto a sophisticated VOSA database linking patterns of a much larger conspiracy. This work was presented to the Police and a joint VOSA/Police investigation commenced.
Absent cars “Tested”
A further aspect of Mirzabegi’s activity and the clinching ‘evidence’ on which to justify a combined VOSA/Police operation came to light during VOSA intelligence operations, and was finally confirmed when the police and VOSA finally put an end to his activities with raids named operation ‘Crate’ on the premises on 30th September 2005.
During the build up to the raids, VOSA had received a complaint from a motorist concerning one of the ‘MOT businesses’ for which there was no MOT Authorisation. Of course that isn’t necessarily a problem – it is quite common for non-MOT repair businesses to take customers cars to a local VTS.
VOSA discovered, however, during surveillance operations that MOT certificates were issued from one site, when the vehicle was in fact at another of Mirzabegi’s sites and did not leave that second site. VOSA have described what they found, “On the day of the raids, Mirzabegi was found issuing certificates from the VTS device at Envoy Street (one of the sites) having access to a number of smart cards and passwords.”
Lessons to be learnt
Whilst at MOT Testing we frequently complain about VOSA’s ‘heavy handed’ policing on relatively trivial issues, it seem extraordinary that it took so long to bring Mirzabegi to book – why was that? We asked VOSA’s Mark Willard about that who said, “I was myself concerned that we were unable to take any formal action regarding the lost 200 certficates”, adding “… if a person taking over a Testing Station as an AE is legally independent of the individual whose authorisation has been withdrawn we can do nothing about it if they are friends, or even relatives of the previous AE”.
He also asked us to make it clear that as soon as clear evidence of conspiratorial and criminal activities became clear, that VOSA and the police acted as soon as they could do so.
On 30th January 2009, Roobik Mirzabegi was sentenced, at Leeds Crown Court, to 4 years on each account for which he was found guilty, to run concurrently (4 years imprisonment).