Saranjeet Trina Kandola, 41, of South View Road, traded as Travel Test Solutions Ltd - a business that offered PCR tests for holidaymakers costing between £60 and £149 per person.
The prosecution was brought by Warwickshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service following an investigation, after a customer became concerned that the certificates they had received were fake.
The trader, who advertised on social media, visited the homes of customers to take swabs that should then have been tested at a laboratory. However, no laboratory tests were ever carried out and the COVID ‘free’ certificates issued were worthless.
The investigation found that over a 17-day period, Kandola had agreed to provide at least 47 certificates obtaining almost £5,000.
She only stopped marketing her services when she found out she was being investigated by Warwickshire Trading Standards.
The certificates provided by the business stated that testing had been carried out by a Coventry-based laboratory and were negative for Covid-19. However, the laboratory told the Travel Test Solutions Ltd customer who contacted them that they had not conducted any work for the business.
In order to hide her identity Kandola used a PayPal account in the name of her ex-partner.
She set up a website using a fake name and set up a limited company in the name of another person.
To give the business a further air of legitimacy she used a fake Care Quality Commission number on the certificates.
Trading Standards Officers were first alerted to Travel Test Solutions Ltd on 21st December 2020 and contacted the business on the same day, leading to the business stopping trading immediately.
At Coventry Magistrates Court on Wednesday April 13, Kandola pleaded guilty to five offences contrary to the Fraud Act 2006.
Sentencing took place at Coventry Crown Court on Wednesday May 11.
Prosecuting counsel, Eleanor Lake, asked the court to consider the risk of harm that might foreseeably have been caused by Kandola’s actions in providing fake negative Covid certification to allow people to travel abroad, at a time when the world was experiencing unprecedented lockdowns, deaths and strains on health services during the COVID pandemic.
In mitigation, Natalie Berman representing Kandola, said that her client was extremely remorseful for her actions and accepted that the offences she had committed were, on any view, despicable against the background of what the world was experiencing at that time.
Ms Berman said Kandola was ‘struggling financially to support her three children’, and that ‘she did a stupid thing which she knows will have huge implications for her and her family’.
Sentencing Kandola to an immediate term of imprisonment at Coventry Crown Court, Her Honour Judge De Bertodano said: "In terms of culpability there can be no doubt whatsoever that this is high culpability, sophisticated offending. It was fraudulent from the outset. You set up a company with the purpose of providing false certificates for money, you had access to a postal address, you posed as other identities, you used your ex husband to purport to make him a director, set up a website, provided false certificates, carefully designed to look genuine. You only stopped offending when it was clear Trading Standards were investigating.
"In December 2020 the world was wracked by a deadly virus. 70,000 people died in the UK in 2020 and continued to die in their tens of thousands. A worse death count was only avoided by brutal lockdowns that separated families and ruined businesses. The effects and measures to contain it are incalculable. It was in this context that you chose to take advantage of the system by giving false results to make money. The seriousness is not the £5000 you obtained – I have no doubt had Trading Standards not become involved you would have carried on offending and made a great deal more. You determinedly undermined the restrictions put in place to stop the spread of the virus for your own financial gain. You were prepared to risk spreading this deadly disease to make money. It is difficult to think of a more cynical way to take advantage of the global crisis or a more contemptuous way to undermine the sacrifice made by others.
"I have to consider not only your personal mitigation but public policy. This is a case where appropriate punishment can only be achieved by immediate custody. The message must go out that if a person using the opportunities of an international crisis and acts in a way that is designed to undermine restrictions and in so doing deliberately risks the health and wellbeing of countless others they must go to prison. To decide otherwise would be an affront to those who worked and suffered hardship to manage a situation unparalleled in our lifetime."
Kandola was sentenced to a two-year custodial sentence.
In addition she was disqualified from being a company director for seven years.
She was ordered to pay compensation to one of the victims and required to pay the victim surcharge.
Warwickshire County Councillor Andy Crump, portfolio holder for community safety, said: “It is unbelievable that someone should seek to attempt to scam holidaymakers in this way, leading people to believe that they were COVID-19 free when they could very well have had the virus.”
“I’m delighted that Warwickshire Trading Standards Officers acted quickly to uncover this fraud and prevent other holidaymakers losing out.”