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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Fraudster swindled Cumbria County Council out of £600,000

A conman has been jailed for three years after he swindled Cumbria County Council out of nearly £600,000.

Carlisle Crown Court heard how jobless Londoner Habeeb Salako, 37, perpetrated the sophisticated fraud by forging a letter from a key county council contractor which was due the huge payment.

As a result, the entire amount was transferred to a an account which accomplices planned to empty at will. By the time the fraud was uncovered, just short of £119,000 had vanished.

In court, Salako, of Winchmore Hill, London, admitted two counts of fraud.

Prosecutor Robert Wyn Jones described how in February of last year officials at Cumbria County Council received a letter on headed notepaper appearing to be from Seddon Construction.

It asked the council to update its bank details for the company, which was due to receive a payment for work done for a little over £581,000, said the prosecutor.

“The council did as they were asked,” he said. On February 23, Seddon staff got in touch to complain that they had not received their money, and when told that it had gone into a different account they pointed out that it was not theirs.

Staff at the firm knew nothing about the new bank account into which their money was deposited.

By the time police were involved, £119,530 of the total had disappeared, withdrawn by an unknown person on various days in February.

Mr Wyn Jones said the fraud was strikingly similar to another committed by Salako, for which last September he was given a four-year jail term. In that case, the value of the fraud was £356,6370.

James Sutherland, for Salako, said: “I am not criticising the losers but it would suggest that the system is somewhat wide open to abuse.”

He said his client was a middle man in the fraud.

Judge Peter Hughes QC told the defendant: “You have played an important role in what was a carefully planned and calculated fraud, the object of which was to obtain a substantial sum of money by diverting funds which were due from Cumbria County Council to one of its contractors, Seddon Construction.

“You may not have known how much was going to be obtained by this fraud, but you knew that it was likely to be a substantial sum.

“Although you personally were not involved in the extraction of money from the account, over £100,000 was withdrawn before the fraud was discovered.

“This is serious and sophisticated criminality, which can only be met by an substantial and immediate term of imprisonment.”

The judge added that the latest jail term will put back Salako’s release date by around six months. He had been due to leave prison in May of next year.

The defendant’s flat in London is currently being sold after another judge ruled that he must repay £120,000 of the earlier fraud.

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