Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Afghan asylum seeker who lived in £1.2million house faces jail over £30,000 benefit fraud

A refugee from Afghanistan living in a £1.2million mansion paid for with a colossal £3,000 a week housing benefit faces jail after admitting benefit fraud.

Toorpakai Saiedi, 38, a mother of seven, shocked Britain when it emerged that New Labour rules allowed her to live in the luxury home at taxpayers' expense.

One of her seven children even boasted that having the house paid for was like winning a lottery jackpot - and suggested it was 'mad' for the state to pay out so much.

The case caused such outrage that Conservative chancellor George Osborne has totally overhauled housing benefit laws as a result, affecting thousands of claimants.

From next month the maximum payable is to be reduced to just £400 a week.

But Saiedi's next accommodation at public expense could be in a prison following her guilty pleas to four counts of benefit fraud.

For despite being scarcely able to believe her luck at the mass of benefits that flowed her way after her family arrived in Britain, she was greedily building up savings and hiding a private income of £16,000 a year, and keeping them secret from the authorities.

Today she wore a blue veil and spoke through a Farsi interpreter to admit swindling the taxpayer out of £30,000 in housing benefit, working tax credit, and council tax credit, by not telling officials about her Barclays bank account.

Prosecutor Henrietta Paget told Isleworth crown court that by concealing the account Saiedi was able to collect illegally around £29,000 in benefits between August 2006 and September 2009 while living in her palatial home in Acton, west London.

At the time she was receiving benefits totalling £170,000 a year, including an astonishing £150,000 paid to a private landlord for the rent of the property - the equivalent to £12,500 a month.

The charges involve Saiedi not disclosing the bank account to Ealing council officials when claiming for council housing benefit and council tax benefit, and similar deception when claiming tax credit from the Department of Work and Pensions.

Judge Jonathan Lowen warned she may face imprisonment as he ordered a pre-sentence report and, without any irony, demanded she must not move from her luxury mansion without informing the court.

Judge Lowen said: 'I am asking for a pre-sentence report. It is not intended to limit any sentencing. All options remain open including custody.

Son Jawad Saiedi who idled away his days playing snooker and driving around in cars
'You have been granted bail on the condition that you do not move from your current address without informing the court and that you must co-operate in the preparation of the report.'

Saiedi claimed asylum after coming to Britain in 2001 with her children, a year after her husband Haji Rahmat Shah Saiedi, 47, had arrived in London.

The family, who were granted leave to remain, said they were wealthy farmers near Bagram airbase, 20 miles from the Afghan capital Kabul, but claimed they were forced to flee because of Taliban threats.

They then lived in a series of ever larger properties, all paid for by local authorities - first in a three-bedroom terrace house in Enfield, north London, and then in a five-bedroom semi in Ealing, before moving into their controversial seven-bedroom palace.

But three years ago the huge cost of their imposing state-funded home became public, attracting a storm of headlines and criticism.

When the family invited a newspaper through their front door, they revealed a haul of expensive games consoles, including a £160 Nintendo Wii and £250 Playstation 3, top of the range mobile phones and two laptop computers, worth around £350 each.

And on top of the seven bedrooms, the house boasts two large reception rooms, one featuring an enormous plasma TV, two kitchens, a dining room, a breakfast room, three shower rooms and a 100ft garden.

Saiedi's son Jawad, a student who said he idled his days away driving around in cars and playing snooker, said at the time: 'When the council chose to put us here we did not say no.

'If someone gave you a lottery jackpot, would you leave it? When I heard how much the council was paying, I thought they were mad.'

The family's private landlord, Ajit Panesar, who bought the house in March 2008 for £1.2million, has said of the rent he receives: 'I have done nothing wrong. I can’t help it if the law says I should get paid the amount of money.'

Saiedi was freed on bail until she is sentenced at the same court next month.

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