by Rachel Ogbu
Azu Akpom, Nigerian-born father of three faces a long jail sentence after he was found guilty of issuing false birth certificates to a gang of African fraudsters who stole at least £4million from taxpayers over 20 years in Britain.
Akpom provided fake certificates to the head of the gang who then created false identities for up to 100 children to get paid benefits.
Croydon Crown Court heard how Akpom ultimately trapped by a text message which, despite his denial, showed he knew the gang’s chief conspirator, Ugandan-born Ruth Nabuguzi, 49.
Nabuguzi is a known fraudstar, last year the same court heard how she was at the centre of the scam which also saw her claim to be suffering from HIV and needing costly drugs – yet in reality she sent them back to Uganda to be sold for huge profits.
Supplying the drugs for so many years cost the taxpayer more than £2million. The gang exploited false identities in the fraud relating to accommodation and sub-letting of flats at a cost of £650,000, and various benefits totaling £900,000.
This week 46-year-old Akpom’s role in the scam was exposed as prosecutor Paul Raudnitz told the jury: ‘This case revolves around the making of false identities for children and Azu Akpom as a registrar was at the centre of helping make those identities.
‘While he denies any knowledge of knowing Ruth Nabuguzi there is an incriminating text message directly from his mobile phone to hers which was found by the investigating authorities.
‘These certificates enabled the gang to make numerous false claims for both child benefits and child tax credits and other allowances.’
The court heard how Akpom started to work for the Borough of Newham in East London in 2004 before becoming a registrar in 2006 and a senior registrar a year later.
He was later introduced to Nabuguzi and her gang and began providing false birth certificates for use in their long-running conspiracy.
As a registrar, he had a duty to request confirmation of a birth, with an NHS number from the hospital where the child had supposedly been born. Instead, he simply filled out birth certificates after being given names by the gang.
Guilty as charged: Mr Akpom was found guilty of aiding the £4million benefits fraud at Croydon Crown Court
Staff became suspicious and Akpom became the subject of an internal investigation while the UK Border Agency and police investigated Nabuguzi and her gang.
When she and fellow gang members were arrested in September 2011 a ‘kit bag for fraud’ containing documents and birth certificates was found.
These included five issued by Akpom for false identities – all supposedly ‘born’ earlier that year.
A text from his phone to one of Nabuguzi’s six mobiles read: ‘Just remember if anyone asks anything about you and me deny that you know me. I don’t know anyone too . . . so they have nothing.’
Investigators were unable to discover how much Akpom, from Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, had been paid by the gang.
CHURCH OF ENGLAND VICAR’S ‘SHAM MARRIAGES’
A vicar believed to have conducted a string of fake marriage ceremonies appeared in court yesterday.
The Rev Nathan Ntege, 53, is alleged to have presided over a number of sham weddings involving suspected illegal immigrants between December 2009 and March 2011.
The Church of England clergyman and his 79-year-old verger Brian Miller are said to have organised the sham marriages at the St Jude with St Aidan church in Thornton Heath, South London.
Ntege, who wore a dog collar under his suit while in the dock at Croydon Crown Court, faces one specimen charge of conspiring to facilitate unlawful marriage and 13 charges of assisting illegal entry into the UK.
An investigation by the UK Border Agency’s Criminal and Financial Investigation Unit, which saw Ntege’s church searched for evidence, led to his arrest in June 2011.
His address was not read out in court but it is thought that he lives in a house attached to the church.
Miller, from Selsdon, Croydon, was arrested in November 2011. Ntege was bailed yesterday and a plea hearing was scheduled for March 22.
The number of alleged sham ceremonies was not mentioned at yesterday’s preliminary hearing.
In 2010 the Rev Alex Brown was jailed for presiding over 360 fake weddings in Hastings, in what the Crown Prosecution Service described at the time as the biggest sham marriage case it had seen.
Nabuguzi claimed HIV/AIDS drugs costing £2,280,000. She also received £500,000 in housing benefit from Newham Council.
She came to the UK in 1991 and claimed asylum for herself and four ‘children’. Three years later, she used a different name to apply again – with two more ‘children’.
In 1999, using yet another name, she applied once more for asylum, this time with three ‘children’. She is believed to have regularly travelled back to Uganda and bought at least three properties there.
In November she was jailed for six years while the rest of her gang received sentences totalling 19 years between them.
Akpom denied misconduct in a judicial or public office and five counts of fraud but it took the jury only 90 minutes to find him guilty of all six charges.
The judge refused his request to be allowed to go home before sentencing next week to see his family. He was remanded in custody and refused bail.
Recorder Freya Newbery told Akpom: ‘The unique feature of this case is serious misconduct while in public office and abuse of trust and that is particularly serious.’
The maximum sentence misconduct in a judicial or public office is life imprisonment.