Papa John’s largest UK Pakistani franchisee denies fraud
LONDON – A British Pakistani owner of the largest share of Papa John’s restaurants in the United Kingdom has denied allegations that he took more than £25000 of taxpayers’ money cash by claiming fake Eat Out to Help Out meals during the 5-weeks-long British government scheme for the month of August-September.
A local newspaper published allegations that Raheel Choudhary, who owns 61 Papa John’s franchise restaurant across the UK, instructed staff to record thousands of fake ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ entries while the Government scheme was running – funded by the taxpayers.
Originally from Lahore, the self-made millionaire is US giant's largest UK franchisee in the UK. He has been hailed as a success story and poster boy of the famous pizza chain for his hard work that took him from working with his dad in a laundrette to becoming a franchisee giant. He currently employs above 800 people in his business and didn’t lay off any staff during the COVID-19 epidemic.
Papa John's said it has launched a probe into the franchise owner over allegations over the discount deal called Eat To Help Out. It has been alleged that Raheel Choudhary’s most restaurants were takeaway or delivery only and there were no seatings available.
The paper alleged that most of Raheel Choudhary’s restaurants were not eligible for the offer – which required diners to eat in – because they were collection and delivery only and that Mr Choudhary promised his managers bonuses for putting in large numbers of the fake orders.
Raheel Choudhary, Franchisee Papa Johns, said in a statement to this reporter: “Like so many industries this year, hospitality has been hit hard by Coronavirus restrictions. Of my 61 franchises, 40 have seating capacity and we implemented the ‘Eat Out to Help Out Scheme’ in all of those 40 stores from Monday to Wednesday throughout August. 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 UK government. Total sales from the scheme accounted for 6% of our August turnover.
He added: “When the government's scheme ended, we followed up with our own discount offer in September. We are pleased that customers have been able to take advantage of these opportunities to make savings at a difficult time, and we are determined to continue offering customers the best deals possible”.
He said that claims published in some right-wing press were not true as additional seating was added to 10 of the venues throughout August to support demand for the Eat Out scheme.
He explained that the paper published false information as value of the Eat Out claim vouchers was £185,015, not £250,000 equating to 32 claims per day for each of the participating stores.
He said that the paper focused on his Tunbridge Wells restaurant where total claim for 13 days was £6825.00 (daily average value of £525.00) with additional seating placed in adjacent unit in addition to waiting bench in main store 1500 Sq feet.
He added: “Orders at times were taken manually due to volumes of customers and recorded later hence block entry. West Norwood’s total claim for 13 days was £2969.00, not £6900.18 as published.
He added: “Eat Out orders accounted for 9% of total orders in August. Our normal weekly average for non delivery orders is around 17%.
Raheel Choudhary said that Papa Johns GB was investigating the allegations and “we are cooperating fully with the investigators”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak had offered the deal for the month of August into first week of September to get restaurants booming again after Coronavirus hit the industry hard.
A spokesman for Papa John's said: "We are investigating these allegations thoroughly and we will be extremely concerned and disappointed if they prove to be true.
"All of Papa John's UK stores are run by franchisees and we made it very clear to all franchisees that we felt it unlikely that they would be eligible to participate in Eat Out To Help Out.”
While the scheme was on, more than 100 million cut-price meals were eaten across the UK under the programme to boost the economy by encouraging consumers to dine out after months of being told to stay indoors.
Raheel has strongly denied allegations that he misused the Chancellor's scheme.
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