A Melbourne couple has been accused of registering “phantom children” at a childcare centre they operate in order to claim millions of dollars in government payments they are not entitled to.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) have charged Ola Ouda, 42, and Amjad Shehada, 47, both from Doncaster East, with serious fraud.

They face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Australian Federal Police officers arrested five people in connection with the alleged fraud.

Three other people, including two childcare educators, have also been charged with serious fraud in the wake of AFP officers conducting raids on several properties in Victoria and New South Wales.

AFP Commander Todd Hunter said investigators spoke to more than 70 educators and parents during the course of their investigation and it was likely more people would be charged.

“It is alleged the registered provider of the Melbourne family daycare business, together with a number of co-accused, defrauded the Commonwealth-funded childcare subsidy payments by registering children who did not attend childcare to make false claims,” he said.

“Phantom children, if you will.”

The alleged fraud, which authorities say raked in $15 million, included exaggerating the hours some children attended child care or before- and after-school care.

The AFP said the couple’s business was one of, if not the biggest, claimant and receiver of childcare supplement payments in the country.

The couple is also accused of fraudulently claiming coronavirus stimulus money, including JobKeeper payments, for a number of Melbourne-based businesses they own and operate.

“This operation should serve as another clear warning that [alleged] fraud of this nature is stealing from the pockets of the Australian taxpayer,” Commander Hunter said.

“This is money that belongs in the hands of our community to help care for some of our most vulnerable persons.”

The AFP alleges the couple used the stimulus money to fund a lavish lifestyle that included overseas holidays, luxury cars and an extensive property portfolio.

The arrests follow an operation involving more than 265 people from the AFP and federal and state educations departments.

Search warrants were executed across eight suburbs in Victoria and New South Wales this week.

The AFP says accounting services for the childcare businesses were based in New South Wales.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said the government was determined to crack down on people trying to defraud the Commonwealth.

“Sadly there will always be people who want to exploit the Australian taxpayer, so we will seek to always be investigating and making sure that we’ve got the resources to ensure this isn’t occurring,” he said.

All five people charged have been released on bail to appear in court on June 9 next year.


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