A former registered foreign lawyer at the helm of a criminal gang that defrauded high street banks out of almost £8m by taking out mortgages on properties they did not own was jailed for seven years last week.
Mohammed Asif Younas, 50, who pleaded guilty in November, was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for conspiracy to defraud and four-and-a-half years for conspiracy to money launder, to run concurrently.
The court had heard how Younas, operating under the alias Mahmood Ali, was director of Montague Mason Solicitors. He submitted false paperwork to Birmingham Midshires and Abbey banks in connection with 33 fraudulent mortgage applications in a two-month period in late 2008.
His fellow gang members had previously identified suitable properties across the south-east to use for false mortgage applications – with the homeowners unaware of the crime.
The fraudulent mortgages were finalised when false paperwork was completed by the solicitors, and signed by Younas, including the certificates of title requesting the banks release the funds.
Once the deals were signed off and the funds transferred, the stolen money was quic
kly transferred from the solicitor’s account into a network of bank accounts, controlled by Younas and the rest of the gang. The money was then withdrawn in cash.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority closed down Montague Mason in February 2009, and in 2010 the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal struck Younas from the register of foreign lawyers, finding that he had acted “deliberately and dishonestly” in obtaining monies from mortgage lenders.
Det Supt Bob Wishart, of the City of London Police, said: “Younas is a sophisticated fraudster who hid behind an alias to con banks and evade police. His meticulous planning and precise execution of this fraud ensured maximum gains – but the scale of his crime resulted in the lengthy sentence.”
In March 2009 Abbey and HBOS asked the City of London Police to look into the activities of Montague Mason Solicitors, based in Essex.
Working in collaboration with the two banks, detectives uncovered an extensive criminal network that led them to execute search warrants at addresses across the UK in June 2009.
Four men – Khawar Khan, Imran Mirza, Nadeem Mirza and Farhan Khan – all part of the same gang as Younas, were arrested during the warrants. They were subsequently jailed having pleaded guilty to numerous fraud-related offences in December 2009.
But ‘Mahmood Ali’ remained elusive, until detectives working with the DVLA were able to match ‘Ali’s’ driving licence image to one with the name of Mohammed Asif Younas. That licence provided legitimate and he was quickly arrested.