Papa John’s Pakistani franchisee faces fraud probe

LONDON: A wealthy British Pakistani franchisee of Papa John’s restaurants in the United Kingdom has denied allegations that he took more than £250,000 of taxpayers’ money in fake Eat Out to Help Out meals during the 5-week-long British government scheme for the month of August-September.

A British newspaper published allegations that Raheel Choudhary, who owns 61 Papa John’s franchise restaurants in the UK had asked staff to record thousands of fake ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ entries manually while the government scheme was running. The scheme was funded by the taxpayers in the UK.

The Lahori self-made millionaire is Papa John’s largest franchisee in the UK. He has been termed as a success story and poster boy of the famous pizza chain for his hard work that took him from working with his father in a launderette to becoming a franchisee giant. He currently employs over 800 people in his business and didn’t lay off any staff during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Previously, another controversy surrounding Papa John’s was made when Fact Focus, a newly founded investigative portal released details which proved the ownership of at least 133 Papa John’s franchises amongst the family of Lt Gen (R) Asim Saleem Bajwa who presently serves as the Chairman of the CPEC Authority and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Information.

Gen (R) Asim Saleem Bajwa

Gen (R) Asim Bajwa offered his resignation in the aftermath of the report which showed how his family’s assets grew to the tens of millions in sync with his rise in the military. Further suspicions were added when Mr Bajwa’s wife ostensibly disinvested from the multi million dollar Bajco Group shortly before Mr Bajwa released his assets declaration.

It is still unclear whether the tax fraud probe in the UK has a link with Bajco Group but since Bajco Group is one of the biggest Papa John’s franchise owners in the world and already under scrutiny, any involvement cannot be immediately discounted.

Papa John’s said it has launched a probe into the UK franchise owner over allegations over the discount deal called Eat out to Help Out. It has been alleged that Raheel Choudhary’s most restaurants were takeaway or delivery only and there were no seatings available.

The paper alleged that most of Raheel Choudhary’s restaurants were not eligible for the offer – which required diners to eat in – because they were collection and delivery only and that Mr Choudhary promised his managers bonuses for putting in large numbers of the fake orders.

Raheel Choudhary, franchisee Papa John’s, said, “Like so many industries this year, hospitality has been hit hard by coronavirus restrictions. Of my 61 franchises, 40 have seating capacity and we implemented the ‘Eat Out to Help Out Scheme’ in all of those 40 stores from Monday to Wednesday throughout August. All customers who benefited from the scheme ate in store and we are confident that we were fully compliant with the criteria set by the UK government. Total sales from the scheme accounted for 6 percent of our August turnover.

He added, “When the government’s scheme ended, we followed up with our own discount offer in September. We are pleased that customers have been able to take advantage of these opportunities to make savings at a difficult time, and we are determined to continue offering customers the best deals possible”.

He said that claims published in some right-wing press were not true as additional seating was added to 10 of the venues throughout August to support demand for the Eat Out scheme.

He explained that the paper published false information as value of the Eat Out claim vouchers was £185,015, not £250,000 equating to 32 claims per day for each of the participating stores.

He said that the paper focused on his Tunbridge Wells restaurant where total claim for 13 days was £6825.00 (daily average value of £525.00) with additional seating placed in adjacent unit in addition to waiting bench in main store 1500 Sq feet.

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