Dec 19, 2007, 1:12 pm
Lottery retailer accused of stealing $5.7M lottery jackpot from small group
Police have charged a Toronto convenience store owner with fraud in connection with a $5.7 million 'insider' lottery prize win.
Hafiz Zulqarnain Malik, 60, of Mississauga, Ont., is charged with two counts of fraud over $5,000 and one count of theft over $5,000. He is to appear in court Wednesday.
The Ontario Provincial Police said the lottery ticket actually belonged to four Toronto residents, whom police refused to identify.
The ticket, worth $5,750,256, was purchased in June, 2004, and allegedly claimed by Mr. Malik in January, 2005. The OPP alleges the retailer stole the ticket after he was asked to validate it by the buyers.
"Simply put, a group of consumers entrusted a man with the validation of their lottery ticket, something that thousands of Ontarians do as part of playing the lottery games every week," said OPP Chief Superintendent Bob Goodall.
Detective-Inspector Paul Beesley said Mr. Malik owned a small convenience store in Toronto that is no longer in business.
The OPP said it restrained or seized $5-million in assets belonging to Mr. Malik, including his home, bank account, investment account and three vehicles.
The legitimate winners "are very happy and they have been co-operating completely with the police investigation," said Det.-Insp. Beesley, who spoke to them Tuesday.
The province's lottery system has been embroiled in controversy since last year, when the CBC's the fifth estate aired a story on Bob Edmonds, an 82-year-old who was cheated out of his lottery winnings by a retailer. Mr. Edmonds has since died. The story also alleged that lottery retailers were winning many more prizes than could be accounted for statistically by sheer luck.
The OPP began a large-scale fraud investigation last March after a scathing report from Ontario Ombudsman André Marin found that a disproportionate number of store owners and clerks were claiming lottery prizes.
Det.-Insp. Beesley said, however, that the OPP was advised of this particular case in July by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. after the agency received a complaint from the four winners. It is not one of the questionable cases identified in Mr. Marin's report, he said.
David Caplan, the minister responsible for the OLGC, called in the police after opposition members accused him of doing nothing while unscrupulous retailers collected at least $100-million in fraudulent prizes since 1999.
There are four more cases of questionable insider lottery wins identified by Mr. Marin that are still under police investigation, Det.-Insp. Beesley said Wednesday.
In June, the Ontario government announced it would implement a number of Mr. Marin's recommendations, including mandatory criminal background checks on retail store employees who apply to sell lottery tickets, and oversight of lotteries by the province's casino regulator.
The OLGC has also made a number of changes, including self-serve ticket checkers, mandatory validation receipts, and a public awareness campaign that urges lottery players to sign the backs of their tickets.
See video report (lottery story begins at the 5:04 mark.)
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