East Lancashire pension workers accused of siphoning £27k from OAPs' accounts (From Lancashire Telegraph)
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East Lancashire pension workers accused of siphoning £27k from OAPs' accounts
PENSIONERS were cheated out of payouts by a benefits official who siphoned the money into a web of bank accounts, a court heard.
Part of Vajid Ashraf's job at the Pensions Centre in Simonstone was to change bank details of senior citizens receiving pension credits, and other related benefits such as winter fuel allowances, Burnley Crown Court was told.
But Ashraf helped to direct at least £27,000 to bank accounts belonging to four women across the UK.
Prosecutor Kevin Slack said instead of altering the bank account details for four pensioners, using the Department for Work and Pensions internal computer system, he substituted bank details for the four women.
But details of some of his alterations had been recorded by the computer system, leaving an 'audit trail' for benefits investigators.
Ashraf, 33, of Cumberland Avenue, Burnley, has admitted conspiracy to defraud and is awaiting sentence.
But Shakeel Butt, 27, said to be one his lieutenants in the operation, and Lucy Kagunga, 21, allegedly one of the women lined up to launder the cash, have denied the same charge and are on trial.
Mr Slack said Butt, of Lambeth Street, Blackburn, could be linked to Miss Kagunga and the three other women.
He said: "It was no good Vajid Ashraf arranging for this money to be diverted into different bank accounts unless he could be sure that the account holders were willing to hand over all or most of the money which was being paid.”
Jurors were told that £3,862 was paid into the bank account of Sima Khan, in Birmingham, from an OAP's pension credit allocation. Around £3,100 of this money was swiftly withdrawn.
Mr Slack said that Miss Khan would give evidence showing that when she had financial problems, a friend referred her to Butt.
He exchanged 'flirtatious' phone calls with Miss Khan before eventually asking for her bank details, so he could deposit some money.
The cash arrived in her account but Miss Khan initially refused to withdraw the £3,100, as she thought she was getting a loan.
But shortly afterwards a large group of men gathered outside her flat, throwing stones at her window, and she received another phone call from Butt, telling her to withdraw the money, the court heard.
Butt is also alleged, at the behest of Ashraf, to have carried out a similar deal with Joanne Wilkins, from Stoke-on-Trent, for £4,950, Nabila Akhtar, from Leeds, for nearly £6,000, and Kagunga, from Birmingham, for £1,940.
Mr Slack said Kagunga had £100 paid into her bank account by Butt initially, as part of an agreement to take part in the fraud.
Later Butt would claim Kagunga was the girlfriend of a man he knew, Wayne Pecco, and he had been returning money he owed via her account. Kagunga denied being Pecco's partner when questioned separately.
Butt has admitted having met Ashraf, who he knew as 'Wadge', at his local gym but denied agreeing to take part in any benefits scam.
Prosecutors claim regular payments also went into the women's accounts for the likes of winter fuel allowance and cold weather payments, linked to the pension credits entitlement.
The trial continues.