The Multi-Millionaire Criminals Claiming a Fortune from Legal Aid
Byline: Jack Doyle Home Affairs Correspondent
WEALTHY criminals are being given millions of pounds in legal aid, an investigation has revealed.
It uncovered almost 50 instances over the last three years of millionaire defendants receiving an average of [pounds sterling]300,000 in taxpayers' money after exploiting a legal loophole.
In one case, two defendants were handed legal aid of [pounds sterling]100,000 each to defend themselves against charges that they had masterminded one of Britain's biggest ever tax frauds - although they lived in homes worth millions of pounds.
In another trial, a fraudster received more than [pounds sterling]5million of taxpayers' cash, despite owning a [pounds sterling]6million property in Mayfair, Central London.
However, the scandal may extend even beyond these shocking cases. The quango which presides over legal aid, the Legal Services Commission, refuses to reveal the exact amount handed in legal aid to rich criminals on the grounds that the information is 'private'.
Former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald QC is among those who are now demanding reform of the legal aid system.
He said: 'It's completely wrong. The taxpayer shouldn't have to pay the defence lawyers for wealthy criminals.' The loophole is a result of controversial legal rules, under which assets that have been frozen by the authorities cannot be used to pay defence bills.
This allowed VAT fraudsters Syed Ahmed and Shakeel Ahmad to plead poverty during their trial and each receive [pounds sterling]100,000.
At the time, Ahmed lived in a [pounds sterling]4.5million flat overlooking Hyde Park and Ahmad lived in a [pounds sterling]2.2million home in Middlesex.
The two were members of a gang which set up fake companies to claim millions in VAT back from the taxpayer fraudulently.
Investigators found that they owned a string of luxury properties and expensive cars.
Ahmed and Ahmad were jailed for seven years in 2007 and given additional jail terms of ten years in 2010 after they had refused to reveal where they had hidden their fortunes.
Fraudster Virendra Rastogi, who received [pounds sterling]5million in legal aid despite owning a seven-bedroom home in Mayfair, was chauffeurdriven to court on every day of his trial, while yacht-owning multimillionaire fraudster Raymond May was handed more than [pounds sterling]400,000 in legal aid. In theory, the loophole in the rules is to enable assets to be preserved so that they can be confiscated after conviction.
But in many cases criminals are successful at hiding their assets from the court, and escaping without financial sanction. Convicted criminals owe more than [pounds sterling]1billion in unpaid confiscation orders.
Leading legal figures told a joint investigation by the London Evening Standard and BBC1's Inside Out that the rules should be changed to stop taxpayers being cheated. …