An illegal immigrant who conned the Attorney General into employing her as a cleaner faces up to ten years' imprisonment after a jury found her guilty of fraud yesterday.
Loloahi Tapui, who is married to a British solicitor, may also be deported to her home country, the South Pacific island of Tonga.
The case has caused great embarrassment to Baroness Scotland, the Government's most senior legal adviser, who has already been fined £5,000 for breaching employment rules when hiring Tapui. At the trial this month Lady Scotland was called as a principal witness for the prosecution when she told the court she had been duped into giving Tapui, an illegal immigrant, a job as a cleaner.
A jury of eight men and four women at Southwark Crown Court in London took less than 90 minutes to find the 27-year-old Tongan guilty of fraud.
Tapui, who showed no emotion as the verdicts were returned, will be sentenced on 7 May for fraud, possessing a false identity document, and for overstaying her student visa. She was bailed and will be electronically tagged.
But judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith told her defence counsel, Christopher Hehir, that Tapui "must understand that the grant of bail is not a promise of how she will ultimately be dealt with".
Later, the judge told Tapui: "You must understand that the fraud on count three and the matter that you pleaded guilty to on count two are both very serious." However, she was cleared by the jury of possessing false identity documents with intent.
Tapui, who knew she should have left the UK in February 2005, told a series of "barefaced lies" and convinced the Attorney General to welcome her into west London home as part of her family in January last year. Lady Scotland told the court she "bitterly regrets" her mistake to this day. Her mishandling of the case nearly cost her own job when opposition MPs demanded her resignation after it emerged that by failing to make photocopies of Tapui's immigration documents she had fallen foul of new laws she had a hand in drafting.
Should Tapui receive more than a 12 months' prison sentence, the judge could decide that she should be automatically deported.
Tapui's illegal status was disclosed in the media last September and Lady Scotland – referred to in court by her married name, Patricia Mawhinney – immediately terminated her employment. Giving evidence during Tapui's four-day trial, Lady Scotland spoke of the "hurt" when she found out. The peer said she had been shown a passport and a Home Office letter and had repeatedly emphasised the importance of Tapui having a legal right to remain.
Lady Scotland said Tapui had breached her trust and denied she had been so busy with her work that she simply assumed Tapui had the right to remain and work in the UK because her husband, Alex Zivancevic, was a lawyer and spoke with an English accent.
She said: "It never crossed my mind that a lawyer in this country would be married to an illegal immigrant and then pass her off as a cleaner to the Attorney General. You would need to be brain-dead to do something like that."
The minister added that she hired Tapui on 23 January last year at a "difficult time" in her personal life, just one week after the funeral of her brother and a little over a month after her mother died. As the full details of the saga emerged, Tapui sold her story to the Mail on Sunday for £95,000, with PR guru Max Clifford taking £19,000 commission.Reuse content