Barrister and part-time judge convicted of legal aid fraud

Ghaffar: Remanded in custody ahead of sentencing next month

A barrister and part-time immigration tribunal judge has become the last of a group of lawyers found guilty of defrauding the Legal Aid Agency by falsely claiming defence legal costs.

Rasib Ghaffar, 54, conspired to inflate legal fees and work claimed for in 2011 and 2012 together with solicitor-advocate Azhar Khan, 52, solicitor Joseph Kyeremeh, 73, and legal clerk Gazi Khan, 55.

All were convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.

Mr Ghaffar, who had pleaded not guilty, was remanded in custody ahead of sentencing on 26 March. It can now be reported that Gazi Khan was jailed for five years last March, having been involved in three legal aid frauds which would have netted £12m if successful.

Mr Kyeremeh was handed a two-year sentence, suspended for two years for medical reasons, back in December 2021, while Azhar Khan received the same sentence last year.

The Crown Prosecution Service said the prosecutions followed a substantial police investigation into fraudulent claims for defendants’ costs orders (DCOs) submitted to the Legal Aid Agency national taxing team on behalf of acquitted defendants in criminal proceedings in Crown Courts.

The evidence in this trial focused on claims for the costs of four defendants who were acquitted at Bournemouth Crown Court. Of the nearly £1.9m claimed, a quarter (£470,000) was paid out.

Prosecutor Paul Sharkey told Southwark Crown Court that there were six defendants in 2011 accused of employing staff at two Indian restaurants who were unlawfully present in the UK. A deal was done that two of the defendants would plead guilty and the case against the other four would be dropped. The court was then asked to make a DCO.

He said it was “doubtful” that the four defendants were private clients at all, “in the sense that there is no evidence that [they] had paid – or agreed to pay – for their own legal costs”.

The CPS said Rasib Ghaffar was responsible for a fee note in his name for £184,000, relating to over 350 hours of work – yet the evidence showed that he had only been instructed seven days before the conclusion of the case.

His wife, solicitor Kareena Maciel, 52, was found unfit to stand trial for medical reasons.

Judge Philip Bartle KC said: “I don’t need to tell you as a member of the Bar, the exceptional seriousness of which you have been found guilty. An application made for £1.8m, when I haven’t a shadow of a doubt that was a dishonest application because nothing like that figure had been incurred in reality.

“This is an absolutely outrageous dishonest attempt to get money out of public funds, coupled with a combination of forged documents. [It is] exceptionally serious that a member of the Bar should, and I come to no other conclusion, this is as a result of greed, for the sake of greed, forging documents and claiming vast sums of money for work that was not done.”

Gazi Khan, who worked as a clerk to Shadid Rashid, led the criminal operation, providing legal costs services to several solicitors’ firms.

Azhar Khan was the principal partner in City Law Solicitors, which started work on the case that resulted in the claims on 1 July 2011, about 10 weeks before it concluded. But he claimed to have carried out over 500 hours of work, at a cost of £162,000.

The firm’s claim also falsely backdated the work it had said it had done to include a long period when it was not instructed, resulting in a payment of £93,000 from the taxpayer.

Joseph Kyeremeh was a principal partner in the same law firm. His legal work resulted in a claimed relating to 650 hours work, at a value of over £176,000, with £60,000 coming from public funds.

Malcolm McHaffie, deputy Crown prosecutor in the CPS’s serious economic, organised crime and international directorate, said: “These convicted defendants defrauded the Legal Aid Agency for their own purposes. They fraudulently took advantage of a statutory scheme which was designed to help acquitted defendants with their genuinely incurred legal costs.

“The Metropolitan Police and the CPS worked closely together to bring these corrupt legal professionals to justice and are now facing the consequences of their wrongdoing.

“The CPS will now commence confiscation proceedings in order to reclaim the defendants’ proceeds derived from the fraud.”

The original trial was abandoned shortly before lockdown in March 2020 after several counsel withdrew to self-isolate. The trial was in its 10th week and 41st day at an estimated cost of £8.6m.

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