A Home Office worker at the centre of a £6m conspiracy allowing hundreds of illegal immigrants to stay in the country was jailed for 11 years.
Shamsu Iqbal, 61, was the ‘lynchpin’ of a gang which exploited his ‘trusted’ position to falsify records so at least 437 people could remain in the country.
The jail term is the longest ever handed down by English courts for conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, which carries a maximum 14-year sentence.
Home Office statisticians worked out the potential loss to the taxpayer would have been £58 million if all those involved had claimed benefits over the six years for which the scam ran.
The four men involved in the conspiracy were sentenced to a combined total of 31 years by Judge Peter Gower QC at Croydon Crown Court.
Solicitor Sheikh Muhammad Usman, 45, was given seven years, legal case worker Mohammad Khawar Aftab Hussain, 49, was jailed for six years, and fellow case worker and solicitor’s receptionist Mohammad Ibrahim Ali, 48, was jailed for seven years.
Sentencing the four men, Judge Gower said: ‘These offences are particularly serious. They strike at the heart of our immigration system and undermine public confidence in that system.
‘You, Iqbal, perpetrated time and again a gross breach of the trust that is accorded to anyone whose job permits access to Home Office records.’
The judge commended Home Office anti-corruption unit investigators Mark Purser and Zoe Smith for their ‘hard work’ in bringing the case to court following a three-year investigation.
Home Office sources said the exact number of immigrants given ‘ghost’ identities by the gang may never be known.
The conspiracy netted the gang themselves more than £6.18million, with much of the money spirited back to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Dubai, where the criminals have strong links.
When ringleader Iqbal was arrested investigators found bank accounts containing more than £1million in cash. His job at the Home Office would have earned him only £23,000 a year.
The court heard how Iqbal and his three co-conspirators would split the £14,000 fee they charged to each of the illegal immigrants they helped.
Prosecutor Alexandra Felix yesterday told the judge: ‘The scale demonstrates a cynical scheme with clear commercial motivation and there has been financial gain. The cases before the jury were an extract of a much longer indictment.’
Iqbal, the gang’s ‘inside man’, began working for the Home Office in 2003 having lived in the UK since 1985 after emigrating from Bangladesh.
The twice-married father-of-seven lost his eldest son from cancer last December, the court heard.
Lewis Power, QC, defending Iqbal, said: ‘In 2014 it was clear that Mr Iqbal was under-performing, he was making errors, he was complaining of difficulty remembering instructions. He has now fallen from grace in quite a dramatic fashion and his world has been ripped apart.’
Mark Cotter QC, defending Pakistan-born Usman, added: ‘We accept this was a serious case. The impact of what he has done is very severe indeed. There will now be the closure of his business – a business that drifted into criminality.’
Sandip Patel, QC, defending Hussain, told the court: ‘He has lost his good character, reputation and his liberty.’
Rasib Ghaffar, representing Ali, said: ‘He accepts the seriousness of the case and the implication on the immigration system of the UK. He was the sole breadwinner and as far as the impact the innocent people in this case are his family.’
During the 13-week trial the court heard how Iqbal would access Home Office records of migrants who had been granted the right to stay in the country.
The ‘ghost’ imposter would get a new identity of a real migrant who had been given either ‘leave to remain’ or ‘no time limit’ status to stay in Britain.
A senior Home Office source said: ‘We may never really know the true number of people this gang helped stay in the country. There could be literally hundreds more on their books that we simply haven’t found.
‘The deception that has been allowed to go on for years is highly embarrassing to the Home Office. Some of those given new identities could even be potential terrorists. Many of them have simply melted away meaning we will never trace them.’
Pakistan-born lawyer Hussain will now see his legal practice closed down.
The court heard the men made one glaring error which allowed investigators to pounce when they tried to alter the details of a legal migrant from Ghana who had been jailed for robbery and was therefore liable for deportation.
Iqbal, from Walton-on-Thames, Surrey; Usman, from Wandsworth, South London; Hussain, from Colliers Wood, South London; and Ali, from Ilford, Essex, all denied 13 charges of conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration spanning from January 2010 to April 2016 but were all found guilty by a jury at Croydon Crown Court last week.
Steve Dann, director for criminal and financial investigation at Home Office Immigration Enforcement, said after the sentencing: ‘ A former Home Office employee, Shamsu Iqbal, has been sentenced for conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
‘Mr Iqbal abused his position of trust to access Home Office records in order to allow people to remain in the UK when they were not entitled to be here.
‘We take any unauthorised access to records very seriously, and took swift action against Iqbal in this case. We welcome the verdicts and sentence.’