‘Terror link to £4.9bn bounce back scandal’

A FORMER pub landlord sent thousands of pounds he borrowed in Covid-19 business ‘bounce back’ loans to Isis fighters in Syria, a judge has been told.

Tarek Namouz, 42, claimed the taxpayer cash in handouts during lockdown but passed the money on to the Islamist terror group between November 2020 and May 2021, the Old Bailey heard. He is also charged with two terror offences. More than £47billion was loaned out under the government scheme in the pandemic — but around £4.9billion of it was lost to fraud.

Namouz, of no fixed address, appeared via video link from HMP Wandsworth (pictured) at a pre-trial hearing yesterday. Wearing a tan jumper, he spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth. Prosecutor Jonathan Polnay said Namouz faced ‘a draft indictment containing eight counts of entering into a funding arrangement’.

He added: ‘The Crown say he sent the proceeds of coronavirus bounce back funding loans to Isis. He also faces two counts of possessing terrorist information.’

Tyrone Smith, defending, said: ‘It is intended that the matter should be contested.’ Mr Justice Sweeney told Namouz: ‘Clearly this is a serious case.’

Under the scheme, struggling small and medium-sized firms could borrow between £2,000 and £50,000 — up to 25 per cent of their turnover — if ‘adversely impacted by coronavirus’.

The loans were guaranteed by the government with no fees or interest for a year, then a rate of 2.5 per cent.

Parliament’s public accounts committee last week criticised the handling of the scheme, which closed in March 2021. As well as the estimated £4.9billion lost to fraud, £12billion vanished after firms claimed cash before going under and being unable to repay it.

Another £5.7billion was lost from fraud or error in other furlough and self-employment Covid schemes.

MPs from the cross-party committee said it was unacceptable that there was no plan drawn up to recover lost money. The government said it was making every effort to recover as much of the cash as possible.

Namouz was remanded in custody ahead of a trial preparation hearing at Kingston crown court in July. He is due to stand trial there in November.