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Pensioner, 79, led gang stealing diggers from building sites


He skipped the bingo and the fitness classes, and had little interest in the shopping displays organised by the warden at the council-run complex for the elderly. But far from slipping quietly into old age in his sheltered flat, Ali Ghasemi, 79, had much bigger plans.

While his fellow residents admired the flowers in the garden, the arthritic pensioner masterminded a complex multimillion-pound racket to steal and ship construction machinery from Britain to make a fortune from the Middle East building boom.

Ghasemi was at the heart of a family plot to hire thieves to steal dozens of £50,000 machines from building sites and send them to the United Arab Emirates, where they were sold. The proceeds were hidden in bank accounts in Switzerland and within the UAE.

There was little sign of wealth at Ghasemi’s home at Harrow Weald Park in north London, a complex of 31 flats for the over-60s. But detectives discovered photos on Facebook of some of the junior members of the family swigging champagne in Dubai and surrounded by cash.

Ghasemi – a naturalised Briton born in Afghanistan – stood in the dock with a walking frame yesterday as he was jailed for 40 months at Southwark Crown Court after being found guilty at a trial in March. Three brothers, their sister and another relative have previously been jailed for their roles in the plot, which ran from around 2008 to 2010. Detectives believe the men hired a number of thieves around the country to steal the plant machinery and store it in shipping containers on farms. The farmers were paid a small fee, believing they were keeping the machines safe while road works were taking place nearby.

Younger members of the family drove Ghasemi, a former mechanic, from his sheltered flat to check on the suitability of the stolen diggers, rollers and tractors.

The vehicles were then shipped to a company, Al Mustaqeem, on an industrial estate in Sharjah. Ghasemi was a director of the company and had business links in the UAE, the court was told.

The stolen second-hand machinery made the gang an estimated £4m-plus profit.