Swindler posed as barrister 200 times

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The Independent Online
FOR NEARLY two years Andre John-Salakov carried out his chosen profession as a barrister with zeal. With more than 200 court appearances, no case was too small or too hopeless.

He could be seen fighting for his clients in the High Court, the Old Bailey, crown and magistrates' courts, industrial tribunals, and county courts.

His range of cases and expertise was also impressive, as were his low fees. One fellow barrister described being "awe-struck with his confidence", while several of his clients said he was the best lawyer they had ever had.

But yesterday was probably his last appearance in court for some time. Standing before Judge George Bathurst-Norman at Southwark Crown Court in London, John-Salakov became the first person in Britain to be convicted of passing himself off as a barrister in court. He was jailed for two- and-a-half years, having been found guilty of 19 charges, including duping the Charity Commissioners into granting him charitable status and trying to swindle the National Lottery out of more than pounds 10m.

An investigation by Scotland Yard's Fraud Squad discovered that far from being a fully qualified senior advocate, John-Salakov, of Purley, Surrey, was a serial liar and convicted fraudster with no formal training. Police believe he obtained his legal "knowledge" in jail and from his son, who started, but never completed, a law degree.

John-Salakov, who claims to be 55 but is thought by police to be older, arrived in Britain from Nigeria in the Fifties. Following a succession of convictions for fraud, he was released from a four-year term in prison in October 1995 and immediately set himself up as a barrister, working from the Public Law Centre in South Norwood High Street, south London. He obtained charitable status for his law centre and offered unlimited legal advice for an initial fee of pounds 20. He boasted he was a philanthropist, backed by financiers in The Hague, fighting to end people's suffering.

A total of about 100 people are believed to have engaged his services for a variety of cases, including road traffic matters, insurance and compensation claims.

On two occasions he was challenged by suspicious county court judges in Croydon. One asked him if he was legally qualified to practise. After a short silence, he replied his legal standing was fine in Athens and New York. The contractual dispute case, which he had been paid pounds 3,000 to handle, was halted and struck out.

When his legal pedigree was challenged by another judge, John-Salakov insisted he was entitled to be there. Told his name was not in the Bar list, which lists practising barristers, he said that was because he qualified such a long time ago. He lost that case as well.

But despite all the doubts he was able to carry on for many months. Even when he was finally exposed, some of his clients refused to testify against him. "Many members clearly were under the belief that not only was John- Salakov a barrister, but he was the best barrister that they had ever come across," the court was told.

Passing sentence, Judge George Bathurst-Norman said he had "little doubt" the serial fraudster could relaunch his so-called legal career after his release from prison.