A FRAUDSTER who conned holidaymakers in to paying for fake Covid-19 ‘fit to fly’ certificates at the height of the coronavirus pandemic has been jailed for two years.
Saranjeet Trina Kandola, of South View Road, Leamington, traded as ‘Travel Test Solutions Ltd’, a business that offered PCR tests for holidaymakers costing between £60 and £149 per person.
The prosecution was brought by Warwickshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service following an investigation, after a customer became concerned the certificates they had received were fake.
The 41-year-old, who advertised on social media, visited the homes of customers to take swabs that should then have been tested at a laboratory.
But no laboratory tests were ever carried out and the COVID ‘free’ certificates issued were worthless.
The investigation found that over a 17 day period, Kandola had agreed to provide at least 47 certificates obtaining almost £5,000. She only stopped marketing her services when she found out she was being investigated by trading standards.
The certificates provided stated testing had been carried out by a Coventry-based laboratory and were negative for Covid-19.
But the laboratory told the Travel Test Solutions Ltd customer who contacted them that they had not conducted any work for the business.
In order to hide her identity Kandola used a PayPal account in the name of her ex-partner. She set up a website using a fake name and set up a limited company in the name of another person. To give the business a further air of legitimacy she used a fake Care Quality Commission number on the certificates.
Trading standards were first alerted to Travel Test Solutions Ltd in December 2020 and contacted the business on the same day, leading to it stopping trading immediately.
At Coventry Magistrates Court, Kandola pleaded guilty to five offences contrary to the Fraud Act 2006.
Prosecuting counsel, Eleanor Lake, asked the court to consider the risk of harm that might have been caused by Kandola’s actions in providing fake negative Covid certification to allow people to travel abroad, at a time when the world was experiencing unprecedented lockdowns, deaths and strains on health services during the pandemic.
Natalie Berman representing Kandola said her client was extremely remorseful for her actions and accepted that the offences she had committed were, on any view, despicable against the background of what the world was experiencing at that time.
Ms Berman said Kandola was struggling financially to support her three children and did a stupid thing which she knows will have huge implications for her and her children.
Sentencing Kandola, Judge De Bertodano said: “In terms of culpability there can be no doubt whatsoever that this is high culpability, sophisticated offending. It was fraudulent from the outset.
“In December 2020 the world was wracked by a deadly virus. 70,000 people died in the UK in 2020 and continued to die in their tens of thousands. A worse death count was only avoided by brutal lockdowns that separated families and ruined businesses. The effects and measures to contain it are incalculable. It was in this context that you chose to take advantage of the system by giving false results to make money.
“The seriousness is not the £5,000 you obtained – I have no doubt had trading standards not become involved you would have carried on offending and made a great deal more. You determinedly undermined the restrictions put in place to stop the spread of the virus for your own financial gain. You were prepared to risk spreading this deadly disease to make money. It is difficult to think of a more cynical way to take advantage of the global crisis or a more contemptuous way to undermine the sacrifice made by others.”
Kandola was also disqualified from being a company director for seven years.
Warwickshire County Council community safety spokesman Andy Crump said: “It is unbelievable that someone should seek to attempt to scam holidaymakers in this way, leading people to believe that they were Covid-19 free when they could very well have had the virus.”