A REFUGEE turned to crime in East Lancashire after fleeing from Zaire and Rwanda, a court was told.

Blackburn magistrates heard that Mbuta Sakubo was a vulnerable individual who had been targeted by organised crime and drawn into a sophisticated and systematic fraud.

Sakubo, 29, pleaded guilty to attempting to obtain £294 by deception from Whalley Range sub-post office in Blackburn and attempting to obtain the same amount by deception from Henthorne Road sub-post office in Clitheroe.

He was given a conditional discharge for six months and the magistrates made no order for costs.

Michael Singleton, prosecuting, said Sakubo had entered the UK clandestinely on October 3. He had come from Zaire and sought political asylum. He had been granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK in June.

The offence at Whalley Range had taken place in March when Sakubo presented a Giro cheque and an Abbey National debit card by way of identification. The sub-post master was suspicious and went to make inquiries and Sakubo left.

In April he presented a similar Giro at the Henthorne Road post office and the police were called. Sakubo left the office but was detained a short distance away. He had initially denied the Whalley Range offence but admitted it after his fingerprints were recovered from the Giro.

Basharat Ditta, defending, said Sakubo was a man of good character both in this country and in his native Zaire. He said a combination of financial pressures and pressure from others had led to the offences.

Mr Ditta said Sakubo's recent history was important in establishing the position he found himself in.

"We have all heard about the dreadful conflict in Zaire and Rwanda and it has now been accepted that my client's life would have been in genuine danger had he returned," said Mr Ditta.

"He fled to this country leaving behind his home, his family and all the people he loved very dearly. The last he knew was that his family had all been taken prisoner and he simply does not know whether they are alive."

Sakubo, now of Surrey, was originally placed in a detention camp in Newcastle before being moved to London where there were other people in a similar situation.

"While in London he fell foul of criminal organisations which prey on people such as my client," said Mr Ditta. "He was vulnerable, not knowing who to turn to and not knowing what to do. These are organised, sophisticated gangs involved in benefit fraud who use other people to do their dirty work."

Mr Ditta said his client had been trapped by the offer of money at a time when he was living off £28 worth of vouchers and £10 cash a week.

"He stands before you this afternoon very frightened and throwing himself at your mercy," added Mr Ditta.