Indian couple sentenced for major UK immigration scam

The couple set up a number of cover companies with bank accounts registered in their own names which would provide illegal immigrants with pay slips and wage payments to make it look like they were employed

London: An Indian citizen who arrived as a student in 2000 and went on to perpetuate a series of immigration scams to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds by helping many Indian citizens and others to stay in Britain illegally, has been jailed for 10 years, reports PTI.

Vijay Sorthia, 35, will be deported to India at the end of his 10-year sentence, while his 31-year-old wife, Bhawna Sorthia, who helped him carry out the scams, was jailed for 15 months and also faces deportation to India. The couple have three children.

The sentences were pronounced in the Isleworth Crown Court on Wednesday.

When Sorthia was arrested at his house in north-west London in May 2010, officials of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) found over 330,000 pounds in cash.

Sorthia and his wife ran an immigration advisory company called Migration Gurus.

UKBA spokesman Adam Edwards said: "Mr Sorthia had dozens of clients who had applied to the Home Office for extensions to their visas, claiming to be 'highly skilled migrants'. They were mainly Indian and most of them were already here".

Sorthia had accreditation as an adviser with the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC), which is linked to the Home Office. The accreditation enabled him to assist individuals with claims for asylum, as well as immigration, residence and citizenship applications.

Edwards added: "What the couple did was set up a number of cover companies with bank accounts registered in their own names which would provide clients with pay slips and wage payments to make it look like they were employed as things like IT specialists and earning much more than they actually were".

Between 2008 and 2010, the couple helped more than 160 'clients' illegally gain visa extensions by providing them false documents to claim that they were highly skilled migrants.

Fifteen clients who benefited from the Sorthia scam have also been convicted and sentenced between 8 to 10 months in prison. Fourteen of them have been banished from UK.

The 'clients' reportedly paid the couple between 3,000 pounds and 4,000 pounds for their service.

"When officers searched Sorthia's property they found approximately 330,000 pounds in cash," Edwards said.

Most of that money, 270,000 pounds, was in a holdall in the back of a cupboard but other bundles of money were also discovered, which had clients' numbers and names on them.

UKBA's senior investigating officer Robert Coxhead said: "Vijay and Bhawna Sorthia knowingly flouted the UK's immigration laws. They ran a sophisticated scam designed to help people who would otherwise have no right to be here to stay in the UK.

"The amount of cash found at their home illustrates how lucrative this was, and we will now begin the process of stripping them of those assets using the Proceeds of Crime Act".

The court was told that following their arrest in May 2010, the couple sold their London house and transferred 466,000 pounds out of the country and went to India.

They were arrested again after they returned to Britain in July 2011.

Sorthia was convicted of obtaining or seeking to obtain leave to enter UK by deception on or before 24 October 2004, conspiracy to defraud between 1 April 2008 and 30 September 2010, possession of 332,000 pounds of criminal property, removing criminal property from England and Wales and possessing articles for use in fraud.

Bhawna was convicted of being concerned in an arrangement to facilitate the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property by Vijay Sorthia and others before 30 September 2010, removing criminal property from England and Wales and possessing articles for use in fraud.

Sentencing the couple at Isleworth Crown Court, Judge Andrew McDowall said Sorthia's actions risked 'undermining' Britain's immigration controls and 'eroding public confidence' that migrants had arrived lawfully.

He warned: "During difficult economic times, it becomes easier for those who are motivated by racial motives to start casting aspersions against those that are properly and legitimately in the country by trying to paint everyone of that ethnic group as tainted in some way, over the wrongdoings done by a limited number."

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Public Interest Exclusive
JP Morgan Loss: Were any laws broken?

When banks are in trouble, they often mislead the world about their financials. Maybe JPMorgan disclosed everything properly about its $2 billion loss, but that's what we need to determine.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are looking into JPMorgan Chase's trading debacle - and if you think anything is going to come of that, well, I'm pretty sure that JPMorgan has some derivatives it would love to sell you.

A serious investigation is still necessary. The first lesson of the financial crisis is not that the capital markets were poorly regulated or that the banks were too leveraged or that the government needed better processes for taking over failing institutions.

The first lesson is that when they are in trouble, banks will mislead the world about their financials. And some will lie. Richard S. Fuld Jr. of Lehman Brothers, E. Stanley O'Neal and Charles O. Prince of Citigroup all played down their banks' exposures before their institutions took vast losses. Were they deliberately misleading? Because of the failures to investigate the financial crisis adequately, we still don't know.

But we do know that when banks hide their problems, they metastasize and can hurt the economy.

So before we move on to other vital discussions - about tightening the Volcker Rule, preventing the rollback of Dodd-Frank's derivatives provisions, whether these banks are Too Big to Manage and more - we need to go back to the basics:

What did Jamie Dimon, the bank's chief executive, and Doug Braunstein, the chief financial officer, know and when did they know it? Were JPMorgan's first-quarter earnings accurate? Were top JPMorgan officials misleading when they discussed the chief investment office's investments?

Perhaps JPMorgan was a model of probity, but so far these questions have been given only glancing treatment. The news coverage has largely focused on how the bank took the losses, what went wrong with its risk management and what it's doing now. The commentary has mostly gone straight to discussing the implications for banking reform.

That's already a victory for bankers - including Mr. Dimon. The first question on everyone's mind should be whether any existing laws were broken.

That it hasn't been asked shows how little true accountability there has been since the financial crisis. No top-tier banker has gone to prison for the many bank failures, the deceptive sales practices or the misrepresentations of the books. As a society, we have thrown up our hands at Too Big to Prosecute financial fraud.

Granted, it's also because Mr. Dimon is charming. Last week, in his extraordinary conference call, he was refreshingly straightforward and made a big show of contrition. He repeatedly said things chief executives don't say, calling his bank "stupid" and its conduct "egregious."

And there has been a measure of internal accountability: JPMorgan cashiered the three top executives responsible for the trading loss.

But we still don't know enough about the timing of these losses.

The broader public became aware of the trades when Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal wrote about the "London Whale" in early April. JPMorgan dismissed concerns then.

Now the bank says that the big losses happened after the first quarter, in late April and early May.

JPMorgan reported its first-quarter earnings on April 13. That's when Mr. Dimon and Mr. Braunstein played down the problem, including with Mr. Dimon's now-infamous remark that reports about the trades were a "complete tempest in a teapot."

JPMorgan was clearly executing a strategy. The bank didn't want its trader to become a wounded zebra on the savanna, attracting predators. Had the bank owned up to the problem right away, the losses could have ballooned as other investors piled in on the other side to force JPMorgan to let go of its positions at fire-sale prices.

JPMorgan executives spread the word, whispering in the ears of reporters and analysts, that hedge funds on the opposite side of the trade were in trouble. JPMorgan signaled that it wasn't going anywhere. It had a big balance sheet behind these trades and could hold for a very long time. Its message: Hedge funds, you're in trouble. Sell now.

"As they started to get some scrutiny, the last thing that they wanted was to admit that the journalists had been right," said David Murphy, a risk management specialist at Rivast Consulting.

Now we realize the bank was bluffing. And it didn't work.

Of course, bluffing isn't illegal. From traders' and bloggers' efforts to figure out what JPMorgan's positions were, it appears that the credit default swap indexes that the London Whale, Bruno Iksil, was speculating in started to have big moves recently. That argues in favor of the idea that the first-quarter earnings were not misstated, the most egregious potential transgression.

But there are some odd aspects. Even on Wall Street, losing $2 billion typically takes a while. The one big "London Whale Trade" - buying and selling credit default swaps on the same index but at different expiration dates - appears to amount to only around $50 billion or $70 billion, and likely accounts for perhaps $600 million to $1 billion at most of the more than $2 billion loss, I'm told.

So there were other trades involved, which have also taken losses. From the losses that have been reported so far, the underlying value of the derivatives contracts was likely to be $250 billion to $300 billion. What were the other trades and when did those losses take place? And were positions being marked correctly?

JPMorgan changed a crucial measure of risk during the quarter. Why? And was that adequately disclosed?

At best, this was a huge management failure. The trades had been initiated months ago and were widely known. Earlier in the year, people inside the bank spoke of Mr. Iksil as "defending his positions." That carries the implication that he was doubling down, to force the market in the opposite direction. That's a rookie trading mistake, one presumably approved by his bosses.

It's only human to have trouble owning up to mistakes. As Mr. Murphy, the risk management specialist, put it: "There's always management pressure when it's a big number and it's material. 'Are we sure?' The last thing managers want is a big loss in quarter that then comes back right afterwards. Then they look like total idiots."

But given the outstanding questions, looking like an idiot is the best-case scenario.

(http://www.propublica.org )

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COMMENTS

Aban

5 years ago

What about its Indian arm, Morgan Stanley? Millions of Indians with investments in its MF are scared and waiting with bated breath for something to happen to this entity. Will Moneylife as usual lead us to light?

Nagesh Kini FCA

5 years ago

JP Morgan has exposed the lax US Regulatory mechanism.
The US Treasury and SEC should enlighten the world at large the findings.

Personal Accident: A must-have cover

About 0.15 million Indians died on the roads and over 0.3 million were permanently disabled...

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