What did your Gran say about clouds and silver linings, lemons and lemonade? In every pandemic there will be heart-warming stories about the fundamental graciousness of people and their unerring capacity to do good. In the NTI newsroom this morning we have unearthed one, and its a humdinger.
Raheel Choudhary is a Papa Johns' franchisee, owning 61 branches of the pizza chain. He is much loved by the staff of his restaurants and they have never been more delighted in his all-inclusive style of management than when, it is alleged, he instructed his branch managers to process thousands of fake meals under the 'Eat Out To Promote Rishi Sunak As James Bond' scheme across 57 of the branches, resulting in hundreds of thousands of pounds being wrongly claimed. You're starting to well-up already, aren't you, and he has not even started putting a Labrador puppy into a blender yet
To make this all the more interesting for his doting branch managers, it is reported that he gave them targets of £500-£600 per day for stores that had turnovers of under £10,000 per week, or a target of £1,000 a day for bigger branches with a turnover of more than £10,000 per week. For those who walked past a bank on their way into work he set a target of a £2 million haul and a kick out at a Cockerpoo as they ran from the building and away from the authorities.
This doosie of a story comes from the Daily Mail and it is worth believing because it is so terrific. In one incident, the Mail alleges that 13 orders were processed in under a minute at the Tunbridge Wells branch of Papa Johns, despite staff being told it was forbidden to eat in the store, which has no tables. It is reported that Mr Choudary instructed his staff to record payments made by 'phantom covers' as voucher payments, which of course he cannot have done, as it is illegal and he would go to prison for that.
A representative for Mr Choudhary disputed the value of the claims made under the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, stating it was £185,015 and not the alleged £250,000. ("I didn't kill the fat kid, I just broke his arms and stole his bike.") This is all a little awkward for Mr Choudhary and his males friends from Hench, as franchisees were clearly instructed by Papa John's GB Ltd that the franchise would not be participating in the scheme.
A representative for Mr Choudhary said: "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 government. The Eat Out To Help Out scheme only accounted for 9% of total orders in August." You see, now you've explained that we believe you and everything falls into place.
A HMRC spokesperson said: "It's our duty to protect taxpayers' money and we will not hesitate to act against those who attempt to break the rules. We have built checks into the Eat Out to Help Out scheme to prevent fraud and protect public money, and will check claims and take appropriate action to withhold or recover payments found to be dishonest or inaccurate." Is it our imagination or was that Mr Choudhary boarding one of the two last British Airways Boeing 747s to leave the country this morning?