Five fraudsters have been jailed for trying to launder more than £2 million stolen from Sussex University.
Gurdip Singh, 37, his business partner Hamel Bakrania, 36, Dennis Francis, 50, Innocent Ohazurume, also 50, and Andrew Wormstone, 43, tried to use a network of bank accounts.
They were sentenced at Nottingham Crown Court today (Friday 15 February) and yesterday (Thursday 14 February).
Singh pleaded guilty on Tuesday 4 December but the other four defendants denied trying to launder the money. They were tried at Leicester Crown Court and convicted earlier this month.
Sussex Police said that the sentences were the culmination of an investigation by the force’s Money Laundering Investigation Team and the East Midlands Regional Asset Recovery Team.
The money was obtained when officials at Sussex University thought they were dealing with a legitimate Manchester construction firm chosen to carry out a redevelopment of student accommodation. The officials were deceived by a forged invoice.
The forged invoice instructed the university to pay money into bank accounts controlled by Singh, formerly of Spencefield Lane, in Leicester.
He was aided by Bakrania, of Campbell Avenue, Leicester, Francis, of King Edward Road, Loughborough, Ohazurume, of Martham Close, in London, and Wormstone, of Ashworth Road, Pontefract, in West Yorkshire.
In October 2010 the university made a payment to what staff thought was the Manchester construction firm.
In fact the money was paid into the account of a business set up by Singh, operating under the name Balecourt Ltd.
The offenders planned to transfer the money via several transactions of sums running into hundreds of thousands of pounds into other bank accounts to disguise its origin.
The Balecourt account was accessed by a number of the conspirators before the theft was discovered a few days after the payment had been made.
Officers from the East Midlands then worked closely with colleagues from Sussex Police to investigate the scam.
The Balecourt account was immediately frozen and almost all the money transferred out of the reach of the defendants, who had been able to access just £20,000.
Singh and Bakrania made repeated attempts to persuade the bank to release the funds.
Telephone records showed frequent correspondence between them and Francis and Ohazurume.
Detectives believe that another man, who has not been traced, was also involved in the plot.
Having failed to convince the bank that the cash was obtained legitimately, Singh and Bakrania enlisted Wormstone, a Leeds-based solicitor.
He sent documents to the bank purporting to show that Singh and Bakrania were clients of his and that he was acting on their behalf in high-value land deals. None of those deals existed.
Singh was arrested in November 2010 and a search of his home revealed documents and other evidence linking him to Bakrania, Francis, Ohazurume and Wormstone. All were subsequently arrested.
Singh, Bakrania, Francis, Wormstone and Ohuzurume were charged with arranging to launder the money stolen from the university.
Singh was jailed for three years and ten months for his part in the laundering.
He was given a consecutive sentence of three years and nine months after admitting a number of offences relating to an unconnected fraudulent property investment scheme.
He was also given a concurrent sentence of two years and eight months for pleading guilty to his involvement in the manufacture of counterfeit designer clothing items.
Bakrania was jailed for three and a half years while Francis and Ohazurume were each sent to prison for three years.
Wormstone was jailed for two and a half years and will be struck off from practising as a solicitor.
Detective Constable Nigel Tillings, of Sussex Police, said: “It has taken just over two years to complete this investigation and prosecution of this organised crime group.
“Offenders in these types of offences will always be looking for assistance from others in moving the stolen money and also to distance themselves from the offending.
“If successful, then these persons would have received payment for their part, but in this case they have been caught.
“Hopefully these sentences will act as a deterrent to others who may find themselves in a similar situation and make them ask the question ‘Is it worth it?’”
Detective Inspector Nick Allwood, of the East Midlands Regional Asset Recovery Team, said: “These dishonest individuals were driven by greed and opportunity.
“They were involved in a thoroughly planned and highly organised criminal operation at a nationwide level.
“I have no doubt that had the £2 million fraud not been identified and the stolen funds secured as quickly as it was it would have been transferred out of the country within days. This would have resulted in significant loss to Sussex University.
“The partnership of the East Midlands Regional Asset Recovery Team, Sussex Police and the prosecution team resulted in the offence being quickly identified and the offenders being brought to justice.
“We will continue to work closely with other law enforcement agencies to ensure such criminals are prosecuted including dishonest professionals who choose to assist them.
“Asset confiscation proceedings will now be pursued to ensure the benefit from this crime is recovered.”