Three Bradford brothers have gone on trial accused of using the famous Duracell name in an elaborate scam to sell international rights to a non-existent energy drink earning them more than £300,000.
Also on trial is a Bradford criminal solicitor who allegedly “nobbled” witnesses and was filmed handing over money to buy their silence, a jury was told yesterday.
Lawyer Majed Iqbal, 32, flew to Dubai 17 days before the brothers were due to stand trial to negotiate pay-offs, Hull Crown Court heard.
Five firms based in Dubai, Hong Kong, Hungary and Iran had paid a total of £312,000 for exclusive international rights for the Duracell energy drink which only existed in the form of dummy cans.
The companies were the victims of a carefully planned international advanced-fee fraud which was the brainchild of the Hussain family, who run bars and takeaways.
The family faced trial until police were tipped off that four out of five witnesses were reluctant because they had been paid money not to attend court, Crown barrister Mark McKone told the jury.
He said police were waiting for Majed Iqbal at Manchester Airport as he travelled back from Dubai with his client Yassar Hussain, 31. They found him carrying a video clip showing Majed Iqbal administering a bribe.
Mr McKone said police found his laptop containing a disc with evidence in the fraud case on it and money exchange slips. Two memory sticks recovered from his hand luggage showed a video clip of him handing over money in a Dubai Hotel room to an Iranian victim on May 19. He said the last Dubai trip 17 days before the trial was to pay off a Hong Kong victim and involved the use of fake names.
Majed Iqbal’s desk at the Bradford solicitors’ practice where he works was raided and police found four more written agreements not to attend court. Police investigations uncovered some evidence the defendants had been abroad on the dates when the agreements were signed. When police raided the home of Yassar Hussain in Ashburnham Grove, Manningham, they found an Audi R8 in the drive with three of the fake drink cans in the glove box.
Mr McKone said passports found at the house indicated entry to Dubai. The police found a paying-in book and cheque books for Duracell Company Ltd and false business cards from Proctor & Gamble.
Iqbal, Yassar Hussain, 31, and Zameer Hussain, 25, are accused of a charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by persuading five fraud victims not to attend court.
Yassar Hussain, who took ill on the first day of the trial and was not in court, denies 14 charges of converting criminal property.
Mr McKone said the case originally started with four men, Yassar Hussain, Zameer Hussain, Zakar Hussain, 28, and Pervez Iqbal, 38, devising the fraud.
He said the idea for the new energy drink came from Yassar Hussain when he spoke to trade advisors in 2006. He said crucial to the fraud was a forged letter saying Proctor & Gamble had granted the world rights to the energy drink to Duracell Co Ltd, which the defendants had incorporated.
Yassar Hussain had set himself up as a director of the fake Duracell company registering it at Companies House and using mail box addresses and a virtual office in St John Street, London and Geldard Road, Leeds. The aim was to give the impression of a prestigious company using letter heads and business cards and a website Duracelenergy.com.
Mr McKone said Proctor & Gamble, owners of the Duracell brand, had rejected the idea of an energy drink, but that did not stop the scam developing.
Mr McKone said Zakar Hussain applied for funding of £35,000 from the Department of Trade and Industry to stage an exhibition in Dubai.
To give the fraud credibility they set up links with a Dutch brewing factory and ordered 8,000 cans with Duracell labels.
Mr McKone said the plan came together when they attended a three-day food trade fair at the World Trade Centre in Dubai in February, 2009. They had one of the largest stalls and were handing out cards and at one stage a customer had to wait an hour to be seen.
“There was a female receptionist,” said Mr McKone. “Yassar Hussain handed out business cards. Customers were offered exclusive distribution to certain parts of the world. The offer made the companies think they could make a lot of money. Obviously the defendants had no right to give anyone sole rights to the Duracell brand name and the agreements were worthless.”
He said that Yassar Hussain set up a NatWest account in the Duracell name to receive the proceeds of the fraud. He flew out again to finalise arrangements with two firms in Dubai and one in Iran in April. Money began to be transferred. About £300,000 was quickly withdrawn between May and August, including one withdrawal of £75,000 Mr McKone said: “By August 2009 when the defendants were £300,000 richer the website and telephone lines were closed down. They kept the money but provided no cans of drink to any of the customers who had paid in advance.”
Yassar Hussain, 31, of Ashburnham Grove, Bradford, Zakar Hussain, 28, of the same address, Zameer Hussain, 28, of Moorland Close, Dewsbury, and Pervez Iqbal, 38, of Dorothy Road, Tisley, Birmingham, have all pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud.
Yassar Hussain, Zakar Hussain and Majed Iqbal, of Elizabeth Street, Nelson, Blackburn, have all pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
“Three defendants are charged with perverting the course of justice,” said Mr McKone. “In more everyday language it is nobbling witnesses in a fraud case.”
The trial, which is expected to last seven weeks, continues.