A couple who spent £350,000 they raided from a charity set up to help families and orphans from Afghanistan on cars and shopping sprees have been jailed for a total of eight years.
Syed Hajnajafi, 50, and Akila Kassam, 46, were working as trustees of Afghan Poverty Relief, which was set up to provide families with water, food and medical supplies.
But the couple plundered the accounts of the organisation, and blew the cash on luxury cars and high street spending sprees.
The pair, who have a seven-year-old child together, had control of the bank account. The Afghan Poverty Relief raised money through individual donations, collections in mosques and received lump sums from other charities and benefactors across the globe.
They wept in the dock as Judge Warwick McKinnon told them: “This was a sophisticated scheme that evolved with numerous bogus receipts written down to pretend that monies of the charity had gone out to Afghanistan for the relief of poverty when the money had been stolen in cash by you.
“It was indeed difficult to hear the evidence as to how those substantial sums of money would be withdrawn from the charity, taken in cash and then one or both of you would travel the short distance to a bank 100-200 yards away often within just a few minutes and that money would be placed in a personal account.
Judge McKinnon said he was “satisfied” Hajnajafi was passionate about the plight of his native country but added he was the “driving force” behind the thefts.
“It is of very great regret that it appears in order for you to have an income and a substantial income at that – more than the income that Mrs Kassam was earning when she was employed – that you were tempted in the way that you obviously were. It appears to me that it started in a fairly small way and once you has seen how easy it was to steal the charity’s money it mushroomed,” said Judge McKinnon.
“This was money to keep you in the style and beyond the style to which you had become accustomed over a period of time. It is difficult to envisage a worse type of breach of trust offence that stealing from a charity when you are a trustee of that charity which is what you both were – you were the principle trustees of that charity.”
The judge jailed Kassam for three years and Hajnajafi for five. Both defendants wept in the dock before they were led away to the cells.
Kassam was born in Uganda and came to the UK in the 1970s when she was around three. She was granted citizenship as a refugee. Hajnajafi come to this country from Afghanistan in around 2000 and was granted British citizenship when the couple married.
Peter Rowland, defending Hajnajafi told Croydon Crown Court he had been a man of high standing in his community, and his “shame” was punishment in itself. Kassam’s counsel Di Middleton insisted she played a lesser role and was “somewhat limited” in her involvement.
Kassam and Hajnajafi, both of Nunhead, southeast London, denied but were convicted of theft of £350,010 from Afghan Poverty Relief between January 2004 and November 2011. They will face a further hearing to determine how much cash they must repay at a future date.