Councillor accused of fraudulent grant claim denies being desperate for money

A councillor has denied being desperate for money after being accused of making a fraudulent £10,000 Covid grant claim for his wife’s pizza business.

Councillor Harman Banger is accused of making a fraudulent claim for £10,000 for his wife's pizza business
Councillor Harman Banger is accused of making a fraudulent claim for £10,000 for his wife's pizza business

Harman Banger, who represents East Park on Wolverhampton Council, applied for the grant in April last year on behalf of his wife, Neena Kumari, for Pizza Plus in The Orchard, Bilston.

Walsall Magistrates Court has heard that the premises was boarded up and daubed with graffiti up until lockdown last year, and had received no electricity supply for 16 years.

But Banger, 40, said there was a constant electricity supply and his wife had been cooking, packing and delivering pizza to customers from the premises from January until March.

“The prosecution’s case is that this was a fraudulent claim,” said Balbir Singh, defending. “Was it fraudulent?”

“No,” said Banger.

“Was there a business operating at Pizza Plus between January and March 2020?” asked Mr Singh.

“Yes there was,” replied Banger.

“Did you have a desperate need for £10,000 in April?” asked Mr Singh.

“No,” said Banger.

The former economy cabinet member at Wolverhampton Council told the court today that he was financially sound then and remains so now.

He said he had been helping businesses in the city, and members of his family, access financial help after lockdown was announced and personally made two applications which were legitimate and paid.

The previous September Banger and his wife went abroad and during the “long flight” discussed his property at Number 1 The Orchard.

He said two people had expressed interest in a tenancy but he could not agree terms with them.

Banger said his wife “wanted to do something” and was “happy to run it herself” as a pizza restaurant.

He said he was concerned because the couple have three children.

“I said ‘how are you going to run it?’ - you have the school run,” said Banger.

“I was reliant on her getting the kids ready for school and bringing them back.

“She said to me ‘I want to do a delivery service’.

“I thought ‘if that makes Neena happy’.”

Banger told the court that the boards on the property’s windows were removable and slide off, if done so by two people.

He added that he renewed insurance on the building in November 2019 and had informed the company that the premises had been occupied since the previous month.

He indicated in court that he had the insurance document with him in a folder.

Banger said that in January he approached tradesmen with a view to getting improvements made to the front of the premises, a new shop front and shutter and windows for the first floor of Numbers 1 to 4 The Orchard which he owns.

He said the windows were replaced and a trader was recommended to him for the shop front work.

Mr Singh asked: “When did you first meet the person who did the shop front?”

“It was sometime in May,” said Banger.

“He asked for a deposit - I paid £500 the day before I was arrested on June 5."

Banger, 40, and Kumari, 37, both of Bilston Road in Wolverhampton both deny the charges of fraud by false representation.

The trial continues.

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