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Knightsbridge cafe accountant admits lying about staff pensions

Hashmukh Shah Image copyright PA
Image caption Hashmukh Shah admitted purposely misleading officers from The Pensions Regulator

An accountant has admitted lying about employees having a workplace pension, in the first prosecution of its kind.

Hashmukh Shah, 63, misled The Pensions Regulator (TPR) by saying staff at Gran Caffe Londra, opposite Harrods, had a pension scheme to avoid an inspection.

Since 2013 employers have been obliged to set up a scheme for eligible staff.

At Brighton Magistrates' Court earlier, Shah, of Richmond, Surrey, pleaded guilty to knowingly or recklessly providing false information to TPR.

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.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Italian cafe, opposite Harrods, describes itself as "one of Knightsbridge's best kept secrets"

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.

After the hearing, TPR director Darren Ryder said: "It is totally unacceptable for an accountant or any other professional to file false documents to purposely avoid meeting an employer's automatic enrolment pension duties.

"There is no legitimate excuse for such action, which denies staff the savings they deserve for their retirement."

Shah will be sentenced on 5 September.

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