'Talented' Asperger's man escapes jail for exam fraud

A highly intelligent former City banker who suffers from Asperger's syndrome and an economics student have been given suspended jail sentences for cheating in university exams.

Jerome Drean, 34, and Elnar Askerov, 23, each received sentences of nine months' imprisonment suspended for two years after Drean was paid £20,000 for posing as Askerov, a student at York University, using a fake identity card.

Both men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the University of York, between January 2006 and May last year, at a hearing a York Crown Court in January.

The court heard yesterday that Drean, who has worked at the Bank of America and Credit Suisse and earned about £2m in three years, met Askerov a few years ago to help him with his studies.

Robert Smith QC, for Drean, said Askerov, who was described as "not particularly bright academically", asked Drean to sit his exams for him and paid him between £200 and £1,000 for each exam. Drean sat exams in Askerov's place using a false ID card in Askerov's name but bearing Drean's photograph.

They were found out in May last year when an exam invigilator noticed that someone was preparing to sit the exam who was not on the course and that Askerov was not present.

Drean told police his motivation was "money and not wanting to let a friend down", but Mr Smith said his actions were "profoundly influenced by his disorder". Drean's counsel told how his Asperger's disorder made him "vastly intelligent" but that it could make him act in socially unacceptable ways.

He said: "He displays a genius but also displays a lack of insight in ordinary social norms." Mr Smith continued: "He did not want to do what he did but having been given an invitation he seems to have seen it as some sort of challenge."

He said Drean was spoken of highly in the financial industry but would never be employed by a major bank again and had destroyed his own life as a result of this conviction. Mr Smith said: "This man's life has turned from success to disaster entirely of his own making."

Alexander Cameron QC, for Askerov, said his client had felt pressure to achieve from his family.

Both men, from London, were also sentenced to undertake a maximum of 300 hours' unpaid work and ordered to pay costs of £1,360 each. Judge Ashurst made a confiscation order for Drean to pay £16,000. He has already repaid £4,000.

Sentencing the men, Judge Ashurst described the case as "highly unusual". He said: "The court simply does not know how serious a problem examination fraud of this kind may be. If it's widespread of course it erodes the confidence the public can have in academic degrees. This conduct, and your conduct in particular, must be deeply offensive to the thousands of diligent students who do work hard.

"This case involves cheating the University of York and it's quite clear that a degree of sophistication and planning was involved.

"The idea that degrees can be bought and sold must be discouraged." The judge said Drean was a man of "exceptional talent" and "quite remarkable abilities". He added: "I'm persuaded that your underlying Asperger's condition has had a marked influence on your poor judgement as to what happened."

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