Illegal immigrant guilty of conning Attorney General

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The Independent Online

An illegal immigrant was found guilty today of conning Attorney General Baroness Scotland into hiring her as a cleaner.

Loloahi Tapui, who knew she had overstayed her student visa by four years, duped the chief law officer into hiring her as her housekeeper for just £6 per hour.

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 May 7 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."

But she was cleared by the jury today 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 her Chiswick home in west London as part of her family in January last year.

Lady Scotland, who was fined £5,000 for failing to take copies of the documents Tapui claimed showed she was entitled to work in the UK, told the court she "bitterly regrets" her mistake to this day.

The row catapulted the 54-year-old minister, who helped form the law under which she was censured, into the centre of a political controversy which saw one of her key aides resign and her reputation as a reliable and safe pair of hands in the Government tarnished.

Lady Scotland said Tapui had breached her trust and told the jury that the defendant knew how important honesty and abiding by the law was to her and her family, but had lied to her nonetheless.

Lady Scotland 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.

"I thought this woman was married to a member of the legal profession," 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 January 23 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.

Tapui told the jury she first came to the UK in 2003 to visit her aunt but met her husband-to-be later that year and decided to stay as she was enjoying "a good life".

She admitted taking her CV and pay slips to the interview with Lady Scotland, who she knew by her married name of Patricia Mawhinney, in a bid to convince her that she was legally entitled to work in the UK because she was "so desperate" for work.

On the day the truth emerged about Tapui's immigration status - September 16 last year - Lady Scotland sacked her by text, sending Tapui's husband the message: "Alex, this is really shocking. I have to terminate Lolo's employment with immediate effect. I do need to speak to Lolo. Patricia."

Tapui said she paid £180 cash to a Russian called Alex for a fake visa stamp, but denied knowing it was fake.

Tapui, of Sutton Court Road, Chiswick, west London, pleaded guilty to possessing a passport with a counterfeit visa stamp between June 7 2006 and September 19 2009.

But she was cleared of using it to establish facts about herself and earn money.

Tapui, who was wearing a red and brown floral dress with a black cardigan, left court with her husband without speaking to reporters.