A very dubious affair: A family of 15 Afghans claim to have shared a three bedroom Grenfell flat – and one of them is a £6.5million fraudster
- Masi Naqshbandi lived, he said, on the third floor of Grenfell with his family
- As a ‘core participant’ he is able to quiz anyone who testifies at Grenfell inquiry
- Masi Naqshbandi was jailed for seven years in 2012 for his part in one of Britain’s most notorious ‘crash-for-cash’ scams
His picture appeared in newspapers around the world when he was photographed meeting Prince William at a support centre for survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Masi Naqshbandi’s story — like those of all the Grenfell residents — was harrowing, or so it seemed.
The 33-year-old lived, he said, on the third floor with his family, who were originally from Afghanistan. They managed to escape the inferno unharmed, but a relative in a flat at the top of the building was not so lucky. He was reported missing and later confirmed dead, one of 71 people who lost their lives that terrible night last June.
News of their relative’s death was revealed by Masi Naqshbandi’s partner, Mojda Habib, the mother of his son, when she appealed for help on the internet shortly before Prince William visited the scene of the blaze, in Kensington, West London. ‘My baby is only three weeks old and we have lost everything in this fire,’ she wrote at the time. ‘We are lucky to have survived this tragedy . . . any amount of help for us would be appreciated to be able to start again.’
In the end several hundred pounds was raised for the couple by well-wishers. But would there have been so much generosity had people known about Naqshbandi’s past — or indeed the current controversy surrounding his family?
The Naqshbandis have been given ‘core participant’ status at the forthcoming Grenfell Tower Inquiry. The list of core participants, comprising 504 bereaved relatives, survivors, and local residents, was published on March 20. Masi Naqshbandi’s name is on it, along with his parents, three brothers and sister.
Being core participants means the Naqshbandis will be entitled to legal representation (and funding) at the inquiry and allowed to question witnesses, review evidence in advance and make opening and closing statements.
But Masi Naqshbandi is a convicted criminal. He was jailed for seven years in 2012 for his part in one of Britain’s most notorious ‘crash-for-cash’ scams. Naqshbandi, Croydon Crown Court heard, was a member of a gang which staged more than 250 accidents to make insurance claims worth £6.5 million.
Nevertheless, in what some might consider an almost farcical reversal of roles, Naqshbandi will be able, if he chooses, to quiz anyone who testifies at the inquiry, as if he were a solicitor or barrister.
Core participant status is afforded to anyone who lived in the tower block at the time of the fire. But exactly how many members of the Naqshbandi clan did live in a three-bedroom flat in Grenfell Tower is a thorny issue. Sources at Kensington and Chelsea council have confirmed that the subject is now at the centre of a fraud investigation.
It’s reported that up to 15 members of the family, including Masi Naqshbandi, have claimed to be resident in the flat before the building was destroyed last summer.
Why should this matter? Because under council rules, adults who lived in the tower at the time of the fire are eligible for rehousing with their families, with all rent and utility bills waived until July 2019.
So the Naqshbandis — yes, possibly as many as 15 of them — were installed, at taxpayers’ expense, in three apartments in a luxury complex just off Kensington High Street before they aroused suspicion at the council.
Two blocks of affordable housing in the Kensington Row development, containing 68 flats, are now occupied by Grenfell survivors, and rightly so.
The Grenfell properties have been built to the same standard as private homes in Kensington Row, where penthouse suites are being sold for up to £13 million, but have a lower internal specification.
The wider narrative here is not, as some liberal voices have suggested, about snobby nimbys objecting to poorer families moving in next door, but whether many bereaved Grenfell survivors, still in hostels and other emergency accommodation, are more deserving of help than the Naqshbandis.
The family denies any wrongdoing, and officials accept some of the relatives have legitimately benefited from council assistance.
Kensington Row, and other sites in the borough where Grenfell residents have been moved, were provided after Theresa May came under fierce personal criticism in the wake of the Grenfell disaster.
She was vilified for visiting the scene and meeting members of the emergency services, but no actual survivors. This was used by the Left as an excuse to launch a cynical and sustained onslaught against an ‘uncaring’ government.
Even the most extreme elements of the Left, though, would have difficulty spinning the investigation into the Naqshbandis as an example of scapegoating the less well-off.
Scotland Yard has investigated a string of fraud cases in connection with Grenfell Tower. The Naqshbandis deny any wrongdoing but Kensington and Chelsea council has passed a file on the family to the police. If anyone is found guilty of criminality they would almost certainly be removed from the Grenfell inquiry.
For the moment though, a convicted conman from a family under scrutiny for alleged fraud remains a core participant.
So what do we know about the Naqshbandis?
The family arrived in Britain from Afghanistan in the late Nineties when their country was turned into an Islamic state under the Taliban.
Patriarch Bohwuddin Naqshbandi and his wife Mariam have four sons, Rasheed, Masi, Ravi and Siar, and two daughters, Samera and Sadaf.
Mr and Mrs Naqshbandi have lived in numerous properties in London with various children at one time or another. One of the most recent addresses was a three-bedroom terrace house in Bracondale Road in the borough of Greenwich, South-East London. Bohwuddin Naqshbandi, who’s in his 60s, is understood to have worked as a police officer back in his native Afghanistan.
‘They were nice, friendly people who generally kept themselves to themselves,’ said one resident of Bracondale Road. ‘There were always lots of comings and goings.’
The couple lived in Bracondale Road for about two years, moving out in August 2017, according to the neighbour.
Maybe he got the month mixed up — an easy mistake — because by then Bohwuddin and Mariam Naqshbandi were supposed to be living in Grenfell. The fire, of course, was in June 2017.
‘They told us they were moving to a “swanky new-build” in Holland Park,’ the neighbour added. ‘They said they were moving to a new place because Mariam walked with a limp and needed a more disabled-friendly property.’
Again, there have may have been a misunderstanding, but the description sounds like Kensington Row, which is a few minutes from Holland Park.
After the Grenfell fire, Bohwuddin and Mariam’s son Siar Naqshbandi, 30, was particularly active on Facebook. ‘Many charity organisations are claiming to have helped,’ he wrote. ‘While we are extremely grateful for their generosity, I have witnessed some organisations use the horrific Grenfell incident for their PR campaigns and exaggerate the assistance they provided.
‘The amount of financial support is far less than they claim. I would urge transparency in this area and once again thank all the organisations and individuals who have genuinely helped.’
On the night of the blaze itself, Siar Naqshbandi posted a two-minute video live from the scene — sparking a little confusion among his Facebook friends as to where he was living.
One (Facebook) friend asked: ‘Where’s this bro?’ Mr Naqshbandi replied: ‘Our building,’ adding ‘I’m here out my [sic] building. London. My parents gone [from Grenfell] yesterday.
The friend asked: ‘Feltham?’
It is perfectly possible that the friend thought Siar Naqshbandi still lived in the Feltham area of West London, where he has been linked to properties in the past, and was unaware that he had moved into Grenfell Tower.
Masi Naqshbandi said his family moved around frequently. ‘They’ve moved us like a football — east, west, north, south and even to Coventry — but they finally gave my family this council house [in Grenfell] in July 2016.’
And so to Masi. His and his partner Mojda’s names also appear on an electoral roll dated December 2017 at his in-laws’ home in Harrow, Greater London.
When contacted by the Mail, Masi’s father-in-law Amrullah Habib said: ‘He [Masi] lived in Grenfell. He lived here temporarily because they are from Grenfell. Before, they lived everywhere. Very far away. I cannot remember their adddress or their area.’
Masi Naqshbandi said the Harrow address was one he gave for legal reasons for ‘overnight stays’ and ‘day visits’ from jail. He insisted he and Mojda were living in Grenfell Tower well before the fire and he had documents to prove this. He said some relatives slept in the living room and shared bedrooms, but admitted that the entire family did not stay in the flat at the same time.
Ordinarily, no one would doubt his sincerity but Masi Naqshbandi, remember, was sentenced to seven years in jail for conspiracy to defraud. He is believed to have been freed in 2015 after his term was reduced to six years on appeal.
Between 2007 and 2008, Naqshbandi and an accomplice submitted fraudulent insurance claims through their London-based accident management company, Real Accident Helpline.
In some cases, vehicles were deliberately crashed or damaged to mimic a road accident. On other occasions, accidents were entirely made up by presenting false names and paperwork. More than £215,000 was paid into Naqshbandi’s bank account, some of which went to another gang member who was never caught. Naqshbandi himself pocketed more than £100,000.
He used the proceeds to fund a lavish lifestyle, driving Audi Q7s and BMW X5s, and staying in Dubai’s famous seven-star hotel the Burj al Arab, where a single night’s stay costs £1,000, complete with 24-carat gold iPads in every room and 17 types of pillow.
The ‘crash-for-cash’ operation was exposed after insurance companies began to notice a pattern of irregularities, including repeated use of the same mobile phone numbers in different claims, and frequently occurring names and addresses of claimants.
How much money is involved in the Grenfell investigation into his family? Up to £1 million, reportedly.
Before moving into Kensington Row, the Naqshbandis would have been put up in hotels and given a weekly allowance of up to £300 to cover costs such as meals. The Government also gave each household whose home was destroyed in the fire £5,500.
Concerns among council officials grew when some of the relatives started listing the flat at Grenfell Tower as their address on official documentation after the tragedy, including an uncle who reportedly registered his driving licence at the address.
‘Fraud is an issue the council takes very seriously, not just because taxpayers’ money is being used to support people, but because genuine survivors and bereaved families have raised concerns with us,’ said Kim Taylor-Smith, deputy leader of Kensington and Chelsea council.
‘It is hugely important that public perception of survivors and the bereaved is not tarnished by the acts of a very small minority.’
Surely Masi Naqshbandi must have been living in Grenfell Tower, otherwise he would not have been given special status at the public inquiry, would he?
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