Knightsbridge cafe accountant fined over staff pension lie
An accountant who lied about employees having a workplace pension has been fined just under £4,000.
Hashmukh Shah, 63, admitted to misleading The Pensions Regulator (TPR) about the status of staff at Gran Caffe Londra, opposite Harrods.
In the first prosecution of its kind, Shah was fined £3,900 at Brighton Magistrates' Court and must also pay a £2,800 victim surcharge.
Since 2013 employers have been obliged to set up a scheme for eligible staff.
District judge Teresa Szagun told the court that although Shah, of Richmond, Surrey, was "firefighting a financial crisis" for the company at the time, his actions were "deliberate" and with knowledge of the risks so he could "buy some time".
The regulator investigated after the company missed its deadline to automatically enrol staff into a pension in October 2015.
During an inspection of the business by TPR, Shah falsely declared the company had met its legal requirements.
When later interviewed, he admitted he had purposely misled officers, causing the investigation to be delayed by more than a year and denying staff pension contributions to which they were entitled.
The company eventually complied in March this year and has backdated contributions.
The Italian cafe describes itself as "one of Knightsbridge's best kept secrets", and is run by Italian businessman and film producer Marcello Moscarello.
Deliberately providing false information to TPR about automatic enrolment is an offence under the Pensions Act 2004.
The case is the first time the watchdog has prosecuted a third party on behalf of an employer. The maximum penalty is an unlimited fine.
Steve Harris, defending, said Shah was in "extremely poor" health and had no experience with automatic enrolment pensions.
Requests from the Pensions Regulator were "put on the back burner" while Shah faced urgent daily problems, Mr Harris said.
The company went into liquidation with "significant liabilities", the court heard.