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Accountant banned after impersonating ex-employer

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A Bury-based accountant who used a friend to impersonate the director at his former accountancy firm to get a new job has been excluded from the ACCA.

26th Apr 2022
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Talha Sohail confessed to the ACCA disciplinary committee on 13 April that he asked a friend to give a reference pretending to be the director of MacMahon Leggate Chartered Accountants. 

The accountant then attempted hide the truth from ACCA by providing false statements and claiming that he was unaware that his friend gave the reference. However, he later admitted that the phone call was made with his full involvement and knowledge.  

The ACCA concluded that his behaviour was dishonest and ordered that Sohail pay costs of £3,500, which was reduced from £7,154.50 due to the disciplined accountant’s current financial situation. 

The ruse came to light after Sohail’s new employers sent an email to MacMahon Leggate asking to confirm that they spoke with the director because the phone call didn’t come from the regular office number.   

The director was attending a meeting at the time of the call and concluded that someone had impersonated him to provide a false reference. 

The incident

Sohail was sacked as a senior accountant at the firm in October 2020 in what he described as “the most embarrassing moment of my life” where he was ushered from the building via the back door.  

His wife was pregnant and he needed to get a job quickly. He told the committee that he had found the “perfect role” but after passing the interviews he didn’t receive any references from his former employers. 

Sohail claimed that he contacted the firm and no one answered. So the accountant sent a WhatsApp message to a friend asking for a favour.  

At first, Sohail claimed that he asked his friend to speak to the firm because of the way he was “sacked and humiliated” and get them to come back with a reference. 

Instead, he said the friend pretended to be the director at the firm, without his consent, and confirmed the dates of employment because he thought “[the firm] would have caused a problem in the reference and [because of] the way they sacked me unfairly he thought it is best not to involve them at all”. 

Sohail said he was “very annoyed [with his friend] because clearly this is not what I asked him to do”. 

ACCA tried contacting Sahail’s friend but they did not answer or return any phone calls. Sohail attempted to corroborate his friend’s story by providing ACCA with a statement from his friend and a copy of their driving licence.  

The written statement explained, “I thought [the director] might not give the reference and [new firm] only needed to confirm the job dates which is not a big deal as Talha has worked there so I called [the firm]...”

He added: “Talha told me that this has caused him big trouble and I never thought it was a big deal. I am sorry for doing this but I never claimed something which Talha didn’t do. If [the director] would have given [the new employer] the reference when he asked then none of this would have happened.”

But ACCA pointed out that without the friend attending the hearing, the committee could not rely on the evidence. 

The confession

Sohail changed his position at the tribunal and admitted that he instructed his friend to give the reference as the director of the accountancy firm. 

He also came clean and said he had written LinkedIn messages that had apparently backed up his claim that he asked his friend to contact his former employer. He maintained that his friend exists but the statement had been written at his request and was false in its content. 

“This is not what is expected from a professional accountant and I am extremely sorry, particularly for the lengths I went to. I am not proud of it and no way can I justify my behaviour, there were mitigating factors but I cannot justify it,” Sohail told the committee. 

Sohail has now gained employment with a previous employer and told them all about his behaviour. 

The sanction

Sohail’s representative called on the committee to consider a severe reprimand as an appropriate punishment. He explained that this was an “isolated act” on an otherwise clean record made as a result of panic that he won’t find another job during the Covid-19 restrictions. 

But the committee described Sohail’s behaviour as “deliberate and dishonest” and that he only demonstrated “limited insight at the eleventh hour”. 

“He appeared to be co-operating during the investigation stage while in reality he was weaving a web of deceit, colluding with a third party in providing false statements and false accounts of what happened in an attempt to hide the truth from ACCA,” concluded the committee. 

Sohail was excluded by the committee because “no other sanction would adequately reflect the gravity of [his] offending behaviour”.

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Replies (19)

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By AndrewV12
26th Apr 2022 09:57

To be fair to Sohail he is not the first and he wont be the last to obtain false references.

But I could not do it.

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By Ammie
26th Apr 2022 10:04

The audacity.

Desperate measure by a desperate man.

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By KazN
26th Apr 2022 10:06

Quite agree, there will always be those who give false references, but it doesn't make it right. What exactly was he sacked for anyway? That may explain why there was no forthcoming reference and also give insight in to his character. The tribunal was probably made aware but I doubt if anything else will come to light. Not someone I'd like to hire...

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FirstTab
By FirstTab
26th Apr 2022 10:29

Punishment does not fit the act. They are people with far worse acts, who were not excluded.

It is not a huge issue as it is made out to be. It is wrong, but not a serious wrong.

The panel sound like a big-headed bunch of hypocrites. Again going for the small guy/person.

“no other sanction would adequately reflect the gravity of [his] offending behaviour” - Many other options are available. They wanted to take the simplest route.

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Replying to FirstTab:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
26th Apr 2022 11:46

They sound akin to the 19th century Admiralty, I am just reading again all the Hornblower books, invariably the prescribed punishments for virtually any transgression is either hanging or a fleet flogging (which is pretty much a death sentence in itself).

Presume this is what inspired ICAEW.

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Replying to FirstTab:
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By paul.benny
26th Apr 2022 12:50

FirstTab wrote:
Punishment does not fit the act. They are people with far worse acts, who were not excluded.

What's (professionally speaking) is worse than dishonesty and getting someone else to lie on your behalf?

And in this case (unlike many audit failures), the wrongdoer is the sole culpable person.

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Replying to paul.benny:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
26th Apr 2022 13:57

paul.benny wrote:

FirstTab wrote: Punishment does not fit the act. They are people with far worse acts, who were not excluded.

What's (professionally speaking) is worse than dishonesty and getting someone else to lie on your behalf?

And in this case (unlike many audit failures), the wrongdoer is the sole culpable person.

Quite. You cant lie as an accountant. Dishonesty is fundamentally incompatible with being an accountant. Any lying when you get caught magnifies the offence. See Boris Johnson.

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
26th Apr 2022 10:44

I find the behaviour of his former employer somewhat harsh, whilst they might not wish to give a reference as to how he had performed his duties they ought at least to have confirmed to his prospective new employer that he had worked for them between X date and Y date.

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By JessicaRain
26th Apr 2022 11:45

Something about this stinks. Talk about taking a bullet to a fly. He has since found another job so his sackable offence couldn't have been that bad.

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By Paul Crowley
26th Apr 2022 11:53

I may be wrong, but I understood that the unreasonable refusal of a reference makes the former employer liable for damages
Did we see the wrong entity in the dock?

Having said that protagonist acted like a chump
Once you are caught admit everything and show remorse

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By D V Fields
26th Apr 2022 12:55

I’ve known employers who as policy refuse to act as Referee and give references. If pushed they will just confirm job title and employment dates. I would think that even if a regulatory body “required” one to be provided they would be hard pressed to enforce it beyond that minimum. Anything beyond a statement of fact is subjective; and the reason why not given.

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
Melchett
By thestudyman
27th Apr 2022 10:24

An employer is not obliged to provide a reference for an ex-employee but if they do, it must be truthful.

Obviously this can open up a big can of worms so a lot of businesses will only divulge the minimum information, or sometimes not at all.

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
By Silver Birch Accts
27th Apr 2022 15:25

Is it not that an employer has the right to decline to give a reference but cannot give a negative one.

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Replying to Silver Birch Accts:
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By paul.benny
29th Apr 2022 07:47

Wrong.

References must not be misleading or discriminatory. Nothing in law to restrict bad references as long as they are accurate.

https://www.acas.org.uk/providing-a-job-reference

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By dwgw
26th Apr 2022 12:57

I thought by now most firms would simply confirm dates of employment and nothing more, for fear of litigation if they made any subjective comments. Surely the firm would be obliged to provide this as a minimum and a prospective employer would understand if that was all they could obtain?
That being so, it was unnecessary for the ex-employee to resort to such desperate measures anyway.
Strange case really.

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By Justin Bryant
26th Apr 2022 13:47

I have some sympathy if the original employer was an uncooperative bully or whatever, but the attempted cover up has, as usual, made things far worse.

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By Mr J Andrews
26th Apr 2022 15:49

I don't know which is worse :-
~ Contriving to obtain false references
~ Lying about the ensuing deception
~ The unfair dismissal described by Sohail as humiliating.
Judging by the 'coming clean' and contrition expressed at the tribunal, I guess the latter can be discounted.

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By Hometing
26th Apr 2022 16:23

To be fair, I've been impersonating someone who knows what they've been talking about for some time now

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By Faycel
28th Apr 2022 19:12

This seems targeting the poor fellow and avoiding the big fish.

Also as mentioned Sohail has been reemployed by the same Firm which did refuse t0 give reference, speaks volume about unethical bullying by Employer, advise to Sohail, Go for your own firm even though you will not have charted status still you will be better off than working for pennies in these firms.

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