London law student Abul Kalam Muhammad (known as AKM) Rezaul Karim, 42, was the ringleader in the organised crime group. He and his four accomplices set up 79 bogus companies and created fake documentation which were used by Bangladeshi nationals in fraudulent visa applications.
They also used these companies to attempt to fraudulently reclaim £13 million in tax repayments from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) over a six-year period.
The immigration fraud was uncovered in 2011 when the Home Office identified a suspicious pattern in a series of points-based applications for Tier 1 general and entrepreneur visas.
Both routes had a significant financial requirement, with applicants earning points based either on previous earnings or by demonstrating they had access to a minimum of £50,000 to invest in UK business. Case workers noticed that several applications were being submitted using slight variations on the same company names.
An investigation by Immigration Enforcement’s Criminal and Financial Investigation (CFI) team was launched and HMRC called in to probe the validity of the companies and PAYE claims linked to them.
The gang claimed their clients were employees as part of their tax and immigration fraud. They created fake payslips and provided false information on around 900 visa applications to ensure eligibility for a Tier 1 visa. At the time of the offences, Tier 1 (General) and Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visas were both potential paths to obtaining settlement in the UK.
They transferred money into clients’ bank accounts to make them appear well-paid employees, with one client, a worker at a fast food restaurant, able to claim annual earnings of almost £60,000. The money was paid back to the advisor the following month and, between 2008 and 2013, millions were laundered through the bank accounts.
Officers found that Karim, his brother-in-law Enamul Karim, 34, Kazi Borkot Ullah, 39, accountant Jalpa Trivedi, 41 and Mohammed Tamij Uddin, 47, charged some clients on temporary visas wanting to remain in the UK a minimum of £700 in cash for their fraudulent immigration services.
Trivedi, an ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) qualified accountant, enabled the fraud to happen by providing official letters certifying the amounts the visa applicants had supposedly invested in their businesses.
Karim and his accomplices were arrested on 26 February 2013. They were found guilty on 16 November 2018 after a trial that lasted 35 weeks at Southwark Crown Court. AKM Karim, Enamul Karim and Ullah, absconded in July 2018 during the trial.
Richard Las, Deputy Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said:
“AKM Karim was the driving force in this fraud, having his organised crime group create false payslips to steal public money and deprive the UK of funding needed for its vital public services. The money evaded is the equivalent to the starting salary of 494 new nurses in London for a year.
“HMRC worked closely with the Home Office to gather the strong evidence that helped convict Karim and his accomplices in making these fictitious claims.
“Anyone with information about the whereabouts of AKM Karim, Enamul Karim and Ullah, or those suspected of committing this type of fraud should report it to HMRC online, or call our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
Lyn Sari, Deputy Director, Immigration Enforcement’s Criminal and Financial Investigation, said:
“My officers, working alongside our partners at HMRC, have conducted a thorough and complex investigation to dismantle a serious organised crime group that was intent on undermining the UK’s immigration system.
“The length of the investigation – the longest ever undertaken by CFI - is in itself an indication of the sophisticated criminality that these offenders were engaged in. My officers have shown tremendous tenacity, as well as expertise, to bring this case to a successful conclusion.
“It sends a clear message that we will not hesitate to prosecute anyone involved in this type of criminality.”
Martin Lindop, Unit Head in the Specialist Fraud Division at the Crown Prosecution Service, said:
“This is the largest case of its type the CPS has prosecuted. Working together with a large team of officers from the Home Office and HMRC we were able to build a compelling case against the defendants.
“Due to the sheer scale of the case, the CPS made use of modern technology in presenting the evidence to the jury digitally via iPads.”
The defendants were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on 23 November 2018. AKM Karim, Enamul Karim and Ullah, were sentenced in their absence and warrants have been issued for their arrests. AKM Karim got 10 years and six months, Enamul Karim nine years and four months and Ullah five years and ten months.
Trivedi was handed a three year jail sentence and Uddin two years and six months.
On sentencing, His Honour Judge Griffith, referring to the Karims, said: “They were the leaders of this fraud, involving others, doing significant planning and carrying it out over a long period of time.”
Confiscation proceedings to recover assets from those involved in the fraud will now begin.