A reformed con artist from Cheetham Hill has spoken about his double life as an international fraudster, and how he pulled off an elaborate $2m jewellery heist.
Saqib Mumtaz, 48, and his accomplices persuaded top-end Beverley Hills jewellers Bijan that the brother of the Sultan of Brunei was planning a lavish wedding and was in the market for precious stones.
The result was one of the most daring confidence tricks of the 90s, although Saqib and his fellow fraudsters were eventually caught and jailed.
Now, he says he has turned over a new leaf and has spoken openly about how he and a group of friends stole millions of dollars worth of jewellery.
The scam involved telling the Beverley Hills-based jewellers the ‘prince’ wanted to purchase a selection of watches and necklaces to wear at a wedding.
Staff were completely taken in by the spiel, flew to London and handed over a bag of jewellery to the fraudsters, which was never seen again.
Saqib, in an interview with the Liverpool Echo, admits he enjoyed a millionaire lifestyle thanks to his scams, which began with credit card fraud.
“I was living a double life – at home I was a good little Asian lad who was studying and working part time.
“We would visit countries and be living the crazy life on credit cards. Mainly it would be the rich Arabs and film directors, anyone famous who had unlimited tonnes of money on American Express.
“At the time, people around us were doing drugs and robberies and that was one route we didn’t want to go down.”
“We thought doing credit cards wasn’t really bad,” Saqib added. “I didn’t think of it as a crime because we weren’t physically robbing stores, houses or selling drugs so we thought it was a bit harmless in a sense, obviously it wasn’t, it was a crime.”
Over the years, Saqib says, he and his friends progressed to bigger scams.
Speaking of the heist, he said: “We found out the Sultan of Brunei had been there (the jewellers) a few months before on a shopping spree, so I thought let’s give them a call.
“Before we did, we gained as much information as we could – it took weeks and when we rang the jewellers we said we are interested in a selection of jewellery.
“We never spoke about money, because when you’re rich, you don’t. We said we’re having a wedding in England and we wanted them to come here.
“We said we would arrange and pay for everything and asked could they bring a selection of jewellery.”
Saqib says conversations went back and forth and they even pretended to be on a flight to fool the jewellers.
He said: “We pretended we were on aeroplane on a satellite phone, but obviously we weren’t, we were in a kitchen in Manchester with an extractor hood on.”
On the day of the heist Saqib asked his friend, who he claims had no idea how much the bag of jewellery was worth, to dress up as a prince.
He says he also hired a chauffeur and an SAS bodyguard to accompany his friend at the meeting with the jeweller’s representatives.
“So they flew over and when they landed, there was a limousine waiting for them, all paid for on different credit cards with flowers greeting them, making them at ease.
“I’d asked one of my best friends to be the (fake) prince. If you’re going to ask someone to do you a favour, something like that, that is going to be carrying millions of pounds of jewellery, it’s got to be someone you trust, you’re not just going to ask anyone.
“The jewellers, they didn’t have bodyguards, it was just a man and a woman and we’d gained their trust.
“Now the bag has been passed over, the chauffeur has been told to drive off and then there’s bedlam.”
Saqib says once the ‘fake prince’ had made off with the bag their elaborate plan started to go awry.
He said: “What’s happened is, my mate (the prince) has got down the road in the limousine and that’s when his phone battery ran out.
“He borrowed the chauffeur’s phone and rang one of us on a personal number. That was a link.
“Also, the chauffeur needed to relieve himself, so he’s parked up and I’m talking to my mate (over the phone) and I said, well what’s going on and he said, oh the chauffeur has gone for a leak. I said what, and you’re sat in the car? Get the hell out of there.
“So he got out of there, legged it, caught the Tube home because at that time he lived in London.
“The next day I got him to catch a train to Leeds, where I got the bag off him. I said right listen, go home and be on your toes because you might get a knock on the door but you’re going to get looked after and that was it.
“And the next thing you know, he gets arrested.”
Saqib says another problem the friends encountered was when one of them was caught on CCTV buying a phone.
He said: “I asked one of my other co-defendants to buy a phone where there were no cameras.
“But he ended up getting one from Woolworths and they kept their CCTV footage longer than anyone else so that was another link.”
With two of the group now in custody, Saqib recalls how one of his co-defendants began to panic and was ready to confess about the whole thing.
He added: “We didn’t have a choice but to hold our hands up. The two guys who got arrested and put on remand were getting word back to me saying listen, this ain’t going to work, you’re going to have to own up.”
Saqib says that after the heist, the police were on to the gang and were ‘following them for weeks’.
Police also recovered a piece of jewellery from one of Saqib’s associates.
He said: “I got arrested and put on remand. In the end, I knew they were going to get me. You can’t go through the years of doing what we did and not paying for it. It’s just that when you’re young, you think you’re invincible.
Saqib was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in 1997, after admitting two counts of conspiring to steal and two of obtaining property by deception.
Three other men, all from north Manchester, were convicted of connected offences.
Saqib said: “Fair enough, you do a crime, you do your time, and I was glad in a way I did the time the way it was, because it made me realise, ‘I ain’t going back there again’.
“My biggest thing was my family, they didn’t have a clue what I was doing and I thought about the embarrassment it’s going to cause them.
“Coming from an Asian community, where my dad has worked all of his life, never done anything wrong and paid his taxes, to what I did. I had no history of criminality in my household, so I was just worried about my mum and dad and what they’re going to say because they didn’t have a clue.”
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Saqib says he now tries to mentor children and encourage them away from a life of crime.
He added: “I do have regrets, I’ve got kids now, and I’m trying to do some mentoring with schools, to go in and let them know, crime is not the way.
“I do these interviews and if anything, if I can deter a kid from not going down that way then it’s worth me talking about it.”
Saqib’s story inspired the 2014, British film Plastic, starring Alfie Allen, Ed Speleers and Will Poulter, in which the characters travel to Miami to steal millions from some of the world’s wealthiest people.
-- to www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk