London college scam gang jailed

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Three people who ran a fake college have been jailed for a total of 22 years, following an investigation by UKBA.

Sohail Akhtar, 42, of Vicarage Farm Road in Hounslow, Noasheen Muhammed, 36, of the same address, and Waqar Bhatti, 36, of Avondale Drive in Hayes, were all found guilty of conspiring to assist a breach of immigration law following a 3 month trial at Harrow crown court.

On Tuesday 26 March a judge at the same court sentenced Akhtar and Bhatti to 9 years in prison each. Muhammed was jailed for 4 years.

During the trial a jury heard how Bhatti set up Middlesex College in 2004. He then employed his friend Akhtar and Akhtar’s sister Noasheen Muhammed to run operations.

The college was originally based in Hayes, but later moved to premises in central London.

The college alledgedly were offering courses in anything from fashion and business to computing and law at undergraduate and post-graduate level. The college claimed that some of these courses were being run on behalf of genuine universities.

The college ran only a small number of courses in basic English, and was largely a front for conning genuine students who wished to study in the UK and the authorities into granting visas for bogus students.

Bhatti and Akhtar were arrested at their home addresses by UKBA officers from their criminal and financial investigation team in February 2009.

At the same time, UKBA officers raided the premises of the college, seizing hundreds of documents relating to students and the college. They found the teaching areas at the college consisted of 4 small rooms. At the time, the college claimed to have around a thousand students enrolled.

UKBA Officers also discovered that the trio had printed the signatures of genuine former members of staff on bogus qualification certificates and enrolment forms to add a cover of respectability.

Rob Allen, London’s criminal and financial investigation team, UK Border Agency, said:

‘This was an extremely long and complex investigation into three individuals who spent years conning both legitimate students and the authorities.

‘Their operation was a sham, but virtually everything they did was with the aim of adding credibility to it and they were happy to fraudulently use the names of other people and institutions to do that.

‘We will seek to deport them at the end of their sentences, and Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings are now underway to prevent them benefitting financially from their criminality.’

In 2009 a change in the law meant education establishments had to obtain a licence from UKBA before teaching students from outside the EU. Since then more than 500 institutions have lost the right to bring in international students.

UKBA London criminal and financial investigation team is a specialist unit of seconded Metropolitan Police officers working alongside warranted officers to investigate organised immigration crime.

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