Tycoon gets 14 years for world's biggest fraud

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The Independent Online
The world's biggest fraud trial ended yesterday in major controversy over Britain's legal aid system.

Abbas Gokal, convicted of a $1.2bn (pounds 740m) fraud involving the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, was jailed for 14 years, as well as being fined a record pounds 2.9m - a sum the Old Bailey court is convinced he can pay from millions he has secreted away.

The judge, Mr Justice Buxton, also awarded costs of pounds 4.3m against the disgraced Pakistani shipping magnate - although this ordered was stayed until his assets can be traced by the authorities.

However, the court heard that Gokal, 61, had received pounds 4m of taxpayers' money on legal aid to fund his 125-day trial. Mr Justice Buxton said he was convinced Gokal had more than adequate funds to mount his own defence. However, he added that he would not pass any comment about the "appropriateness" of the legal aid board giving out money to Gokal.

Gokal was a close friend of Hassan Abedi, the late founder of BCCI. He was the biggest single borrower before banking authorities shut BCCI down in 1992 after discovering fraud amounting to $20bn. The Serious Fraud Office in London is convinced that Gokal and his associates have at least pounds 100m hidden in a web of foreign bank accounts and shelf companies.

Anthony Hacking QC, for the prosecution, told the court that after his arrest at Frankfurt airport Gokal had paid for German lawyers while extradition proceedings were going on. This continued until he arrived at Brixton prison in 1994. Mr Hacking said he was awarded legal aid in 1995 without the prosecuting authorities being consulted.

Awarding costs of pounds 4.3m against Gokal the judge said he was not "prepared to let this matter pass". Gokal would, however, be expected to pay pounds 2.9m on a confiscation order within two years. Failure to do so would lead to a further three-year jail term.

Sentencing Gokal, the judge said: "I am wholly satisfied that you are an intelligent, sophisticated and unscrupulous man, who put the interests of yourself and your family before all else."

Fraudster jailed, page 22