Accountant banned after impersonating ex-employerby
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.