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Saturday, 6 June 2009

Univisas sentenced in the biggest visa scam in the UK‎

An Indian trio – a solicitor and his two wives – have been jailed in London for their alleged involvement in the biggest ever visa scam in the UK.

A city court on Wednesday sentenced Jatinder Kumar Sharma, 44, and his second wife Rakhi Shahi, 31, for seven and eight years respectively for running a fraud firm called Univisas, where they helped hundreds of immigrants apply for visas using bogus documents and false identities.

The court also ordered that they be deported at the end of their sentences.

Another accused Neelam Sharma, Jatinder's first wife, was sentenced for four years.

"The conspiracy concerned a carefully planned professional organisation that continued for two years and would clearly have continued beyond that had the police not acted on what was a smart piece of investigative reporting," Judge McGregor-Johnson at Isleworth Crown Court said.

He said Sharma, who is still listed on the roll of solicitors in this country and possibly in India, was "completely unfitted to be a member of that profession".

The judge hoped that his remarks would be noted by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority.

Police said all the three lived together in Clarence Street, Southall, West London. While Neelam Sharma married Jatinder about 20 years ago, another marriage certificate shows that he recently married Shahi.

Police said both marriages took place in India and the second would be illegal under Indian law.

Jatinder Kumar Sharma received 18 months sentence for stealing ink stamps from companies where he had previously worked. Besides, he was given four years for money laundering, nine months for one charge of deception and 12 months for using a false passport to enter the country.

While Shahi, who received a total of eight years, was sentenced to five years for laundering money and six months for using false documents to enter the country.

However, Neelam, who was given a four-year term for money laundering after being found guilty of handling some of the hundreds of thousands of pounds which poured into their business, was cleared of conspiracy to defraud and immigration offences.

All the sentences will run concurrently.

Police suspect more than 1,000 people, mostly from the Indian sub-continent, used the business to cheat border controls.

However, of the 960 cases, files of which were seized, only 81 clients have been identified and traced, and just 41 have been removed from the country, the court heard.

The Univisas operation was uncovered when a newspaper reporter secretly recorded Sharma offering to supply false documents to him for 4,000 pounds.

Shahi and Jatinder Sharma, who ran the immigration consultancy business, amassed a mountain of 90,000 documents including false university certificates, fraudulent academic records, bogus bank statements and payslips.

They also kept passports, 50 different types of headed notepaper and 150 ink stamps which were all used to create fake documents to support visa applications.

Jatinder and Rakhi are believed to have earned at least three million pounds from their fraud business.

Individuals running one of the London colleges that provided them with sham certificates and diplomas are believed to have been paid nine million pounds for their work.

The court was told that employees at the London School of E-Commerce supplied fraudulent material including degrees, to the criminals.

When the police raided their offices they found evidence that Jatinder planned to move the business to India, where he could operate out of reach of British authorities.

Among the documents seized were false university certificates from India and Pakistan, false academic records from British colleges and fake bank statements and pay slips.

Passing sentence at Isleworth Crown Court in London, Judge Richard McGregor-Johnson said the pair had exploited "weaknesses" in the checks made by the Home Office.

"You saw the weaknesses in those systems and dishonestly exploited them," he said.

The court had earlier heard that Home Office employees had failed to spot that employment certificates from across India were almost identical and wage slips did not add up.

The UK Border Agency, Home Office and office of the Immigration Services Commissioner came under criticism during the case.
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