Law firm boss 'at centre of immigration scam'

A law firm manager was at the heart of a lucrative plot to con the Home Office into allowing "hundreds" of foreign nationals to settle in Britain, a court heard today.

The alleged scam involved large numbers of forged documents pretending applicants were entitled to indefinite leave to remain.

They suggested all of them had satisfied the so-called "14-year or long residence rule".

In reality, many had arrived in the country comparatively recently, claimed prosecutor Christopher Amor.

The barrister told London's Southwark Crown Court that Francis Enaharo, 51, was "at the centre" of the conspiracy.

He claimed that, as manager of the south-east London practice Macauley Blackman Solicitors, Enaharo was able to put his clients in touch with the forgers.

"Once the documents were obtained, he acted on behalf of those clients in arranging the subsequent fraudulent applications," Mr Amor told the court.

He said it was part of the Crown's case one of the forgers was 50-year-old Grace O'Connor.

"Documents created by her have been used in large numbers of fraudulent applications for indefinite leave to remain."

Also in the dock was Olumuyiwa Akinrin, 45.

Mr Amor said he, too, provided fake paperwork, although it was "not clear whether he was acting as a middleman".

He added: "However, Enaharo provided his clients with contact details for Akinrin, who in turn arranged the production and supply of the documents.

"In addition to undermine the system of immigration regulation, the defendants also benefited financially from the conspiracy.

"They were able to charge the applicants both for the forged documents and for the submission of the applications themselves.

"The number of fraudulent applications emanating from this one office runs into the hundreds."

Enaharo, of Capston Mews, Gravesend, Kent; O'Connor, of Codrington Hill, Lewisham, south-east London; and Akinrin, of Chabot Drive, Southwark, south-east London, all deny one count of conspiring with other to "assist unlawful immigration to a member state" on or before May 14, 2008.

The court heard current law allows a person to apply for indefinite leave to remain if they can prove they have been in Britain 10 years lawfully or 14 years unlawfully.

Applications have to be supported by proof of residency using so-called residency documents such as utility bills, bank and mortgage statements, tenancy agreements, healthcare records, and medical cards.

Mr Amor said that, to begin with, fake applications were made by Total Legal Services. But after September 2006 that changed to Macauley Blackman when the law firm took over the immigration advice operation.

Enaharo, who had been practice manger for both, "ran the office on a day to day basis, took responsibility for initial contacts with clients of the firm, and became the key figure in the conspiracy".

The barrister said the plot was exposed when police searched the offices of O'Connor's secretarial service firm in connection with an entirely separate mortgage fraud probe.

Among documents seized was a large quantity of paperwork that could have been used to support applications to remain, counsel claimed.

Closer examination discovered many of the gas bills found contained the same error - "cobic feet" instead of cubic. Further tell-tale mistakes were discovered in other fake documents, including Sky television bills.

Mr Amor told jurors what appeared to be a price list for specific documents was also recovered.

He claimed the evidence suggested O'Connor not only knew Enaharo but, like him, had also worked for the immigration advice firm.

"In the light of this, her claim she had no idea her forgeries would be used support fraudulent immigration applications appears extremely dubious."

Jurors heard an undercover officer, posing as an illegal immigrant from Ghana hoping to settle in Britain, subsequently made an appointment with Macauley Blackman.

After explaining he did not meet the legal requirements, he was allegedly told he would be introduced to someone who could arrange the necessary paperwork for £960.

It was claimed the secretly taped conversation heard Enaharo assure the officer his contacts could easily provide "any document you support your application".

However, when the officer met Akinrin he was informed it would actually cost him £1,200.

He was told: "What you are getting is documents to say you've been here for 14 years."

In the event he was handed a bundle of documentation including an NHS card, utility bills, a bank statement, payslips, P60s, hospital letters and business administration diploma.

When Akinrin's home was eventually searched, allegedly bogus paperwork was found, while more incriminating material recovered from his car linked him to Enaharo.

Some 500 client files were also seized from the law firm, with the "vast majority" apparently containing forged documents supporting leave to remain applications, with "suggesting" a connection with O'Connor.

Mr Amor said while O'Connor gave a "no comment" interview, she "admitted" forging when questioned earlier about the mortgage fraud allegations. However, she insisted she never suspected they would be used to breach immigration law.

For his part, Akinrin responded to only a handful of questions. But the barrister told jurors it was "likely his case will be he did not know the nature of the documents he was providing".

He added: "The prosecution simply say the undercover officer's recordings, as well as the application of basic common sense to this claim, prove conclusively he knew exactly the nature of the business with which he was involved."

Enaharo, however, answered all questions but emphasised he was a practice manager, not a lawyer, insisted "the solicitors were responsible for the application", and said he knew nothing about forged documents.

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